Thursday, December 30, 2004

Treating voters like consumers (because they are)

One of the things that interests me most about the presidential election is how the Bush-Cheney campaign used consumer research and communication strategies that mirror the savviest marketers of big brands. And we here at NotBillable are always fans of smart advertising! Patrick Ruffini points to this WaPo article that tells us how smart it really was. One could say that the Kerry campaign (and their 527s) took a mass approach to marketing their candidate -- an old strategy that meant, for instance, buying lots of expensive network media -- while the Bush campaign took a niche approach, matching different messages to different audiences and employing a more targeted use of broadcast and cable ad buys. Example: as the NYTimes reported on December 6 (in an Archived article) research showed that many Republican women watch Will & Grace. Guess where the campaign did buy network ad time?

This is consumer research -- pure and simple analytics -- at its best. When most people talk of research in campaigns, they mean focus groups but there can and should be much more. There's the all-important database. Early on, the Bush-Cheney team scrapped their traditional phone lists and voter info and used CONSUMER databases -- getting a psychographic picture of who their voters were and what they did. This of course led to the aforementioned precise media plans. I'm guessing it also allowed them to zero in on INFLUENCERS -- people who can reach and motivate other voters/consumers not reached by more traditional advertising. And that's where "the energy and commitment of your supporters" (as Ruffini puts it) kicks in.

As someone in advertising who loves to follow politics, I've always wondered why campaigns don't behave like successful marketers. Candidates are brands. They reach and influence voters through advertising and public relations. Maybe Bush-Cheney finally proved to the political world what Procter & Gamble proved years ago to marketers: the secret to success is constant and high-quality consumer research.

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