Elections and Marketing

This year’s election cycle was touted to be one of the most critical in history due to the high possibility that the Republicans could gain control of the Senate and retain control of the House. Some races were too close to call beforehand, which only increased the animosity displayed both candidates from both parties. It seems to be a common desire to run a “clean” campaign with opponents promising to stick to the facts and leave the skeletons in the closet. However, noble these desires are it’s almost inevitable that the skeletons come to life and break free from their hiding place to declare to the world their wrongdoings.

This scenario is currently being played out in a series of episodes of the CBS show The Good Wife. The main character Alisha Florickk is running for Illinois State Attorney. Her opponent proposed a pack to fight fair, although the tides quickly changed as egos were bruised, juicy information was discovered, and the fierce competitors were released from within. As I mentioned before, this isn’t an original storyline, we are actual witnesses and possibly players every two years in this real life drama.

A couple days before the midterm election, ABC News released “The 7 Most Controversial Ads of Election 2014.” Some of them are par for the course, but one in particular struck me as so far over the line that it leaves me wondering who thought this was a good ad. It was the Alaskan Senate race between Democrat Senator Mark Begich and his Republican opponent Dan Sullivan. Begich tried to capitalize on a heinous Anchorage crime where a toddler was sexually assaulted and her grandparents were murdered. Obviously, a terrible story to include as a ploy for politics, but translated this campaign from bad to worse was the fact that Begich’s campaign leadership didn’t pull the ad when the family of the deceased requested it.

This type of risky marketing is exactly that….risky. Some of these advertisements could be the thing that pushes the vote favorably for the one who decided to play dirty or it could cause such damage that the necessary votes could be lost forever. I’m not very involved in politics and don’t find gossip or airing dirty laundry entertaining so I tend to side with the candidate that keeps it mostly clean. Because let’s be honest, all politics is is marketing.

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8 Responses to Elections and Marketing

  1. Matthew says:

    It is pretty sad, Meradyth. It’s pretty sad indeed when ads like that are run. It’s even sadder when ads like that work.
    Whether or not the ad had anything to do with Begich losing is really immaterial. The fact is that the guy who ran the ad won. So thereby there is really is no deterrent for others to not do the same thing.
    We hear it with marketing all the time; we are hearing it now with Facebook’s new privacy settings set to take effect in 2015. People talk about how Facebook will be tracking us and selling our information. But the sad fact is that people can make a choice to deactivate their account. Or just stop logging in. But when other companies see that Facebook can do this and nobody really does anything about it, there is no incentive to not do it. In fact, they may feel it is foolish not to.
    The fact is that, for the most part, dirty campaigns usually work. There are times when they backfire, but for the most part it is the shocking and outlandish stuff that people remember. The benign promises that politicians make just get lost in the noise. But a raped little girl and murdered grandparents, people will remember that.

  2. Talyssa says:

    Hi Meradyth. What an awful ad campaign! I think it’s probably an accurate representation of the candidate who released it. Voters beware! I worked as an interim public information officer for LA County’s Registrar-Recorder/County Clerk, the department that manages all the election materials for voters in the County. To your point about politics being just marketing, it’s absolutely true. One of the biggest reasons I heard that people do not vote is that they do not feel comfortable voting for or selecting people for particular offices or which way to vote on propositions. While some people go to the polls with their sample ballots marked with their well-researched selections, many others barely remember to get to the polls on Election Day. I think a lot of political candidates know this, and they realize that if they can get their name on that TV for the voter to hear, even in passing, the person will be more likely to vote for them on Election Day. It’s sad but true, and a lot of times, it kind of works.

  3. Tyler says:

    Great post, Mera!

    I completely agree with everyone’s comments above. Politics is nasty business with too many personal attacks, lousy candidates and poorly run campaigns. Dirty ads work for the most part because they are simple and memorable – attempting to penetrate the noise.

    I’ve worked in various capacities on political (San Diego Mayoral and city council) campaigns and public voter initiatives. The concepts we’ve been learning in CMGT 541 can easily be applied to marketing a candidate or campaign. The candidate is a brand, has an agenda/platform, needs to “tactfully” execute a communication strategy using the marketing mix (social, online, print, tv, etc.) to reach multiple target audiences….

    Politician’s and their strategy/communications teams constantly battle at which direction to take campaigns. In this specific case, it seems the Ad was run in desperation with incumbent falling behind in the race around August. I also watched the follow up MSNBC commentary and it sounded like Begich was a real Moran (for a lack of better words). We’re probably better off without him in D.C.


  4. rasulova says:

    Thanks for the post.
    You brought up a very interesting point on the role of marketing in politics. I’ve researched a couple of cases with campaign managers and how their strategies played a crucial role in elections, particularly the voting results. A former Ukraine President Yanukovitch hired former campaign manager for G.Bush to lead his winning campaign several years ago. The most recent news that struck me was Uber hiring one of the Obama campaign strategists to lead company’s communications.

  5. Lesley says:

    That’s a disgusting ad, indeed, Meradyth. I follow politics pretty closely, but I’ve become increasingly dismayed at the quality of candidates on both sides of the aisle. That’s because, as you rightly point out, politics is all about marketing, and most decent people would be insane to jump into the political fray. All it takes is one “oops” that gets discovered in oppo research and you’re toast.

    I recently finished a book called “All the Truth is Out” by Matt Bai, and he details how we got to this state of affairs. It all started in the 80s with the Gary Hart campaign. It’s distressing that things are how they are, because we so desperately need our government to work well. Yet if something doesn’t change with the way campaigns are run, we’ll never get good people to run for office.

    Thanks for a great post!

  6. Chanel says:

    As someone 100% involved in politics…well elections = marketing for sure. Negative advertising ads although unpopular are “sticky” and because of their effectiveness…they remain alive. There is a tight line though, where I concede that if overdone…can hurt a campaign rather than the help (the intention is to put your candidate in a better light). The unfortunate part about running for office is that you are putting yourself in the public limelight and anything and everything can be brought up and used against you. Hence…I can’t run for office! >.< HA!

    • Catherine says:

      Hi Meradyth,

      Great post! I worked very closely with political advertisements this year at my station. The legality’s are incredible and spots even had to be viewed by lawyers prior to airing. I agree that this marketing tactic is “dirty” and that just the idea of a politician not playing fair could sway a vote (atleast mine). Another interesting thing we watched unfold was the impact of digital. From one year to the next we saw more and more ads on sites like Pandora and the agencies representing these candidates wanted to buy Section Takeovers, pre-roll and all types of ad units. I’m sure they are trying to appeal to younger audiences and truly cover their bases, but again that just means we’re seeing even more of these ads EVERYWHERE!

  7. Graham says:

    You’re right Mera. Politics really is marketing. One of my bachelors degrees was in Politics and one of my certificates was in civic education so I interpret this a bit differently. To me this is within bounds. He’s pointing to what the guy did while the Attorney General and with all the compromised ethics and dishonesty in elections we don’t have a lot to go on. The sad truth also is that most people aren’t civic-ly equipped to evaluate the qualifications for a good leader. Knowing this, politicians tend to distract us with talks about cultural issues while the economy suffers and wars occur abroad. A lot of topics like the one muckraked in the campaign video you shared are touchy but as voters I think the best way to evaluate a politician is to look at their record. This is one instance and is a flimsy connection but it’s that guys record and, for me, I think their past success or failures tell me a lot more about what they will do in office than anything that will come out of their mouth.

    Excellent work!