Politics and Marketing: A time for change?

In November, Americans will get to apply one of the most basic and valued of democratic freedoms… the right to vote. As we get closer to the end of another election, it’s clear we are in the middle of one of the most animated and costly elections of our generation. We are hopefully witnessing the last extremes of a style of politics and campaigning that came into being during the 60s, and that should have gone out of existence by now.

I am not making a statement of support here, and I am not commenting on any candidate or their politics in particular. I am talking about how politicians from all parties go about marketing themselves to get elected. In particular, I see room for improvement in both the implementation and the message of politics. There’s a lot of debate about how the government needs to run more like a business. I agree and think both parties could learn a few things from marketing professionals.

In November, a record-breaking amount of money will dispense into campaign funds across the country. Political analysts are reporting that these midterms will be the most costly in American history. Up a shocking 40% from 2008. Beyond the justifiable dispute about how all this cash in politics may be demeaning the democratic process, I think the rate at which the funds are getting spent shows how much our politicians aren’t staying up with the times.

This is proven by the fact that there’s not been a lot of originality or improvement in the marketing strategies most politicians use to get elected. For example, the Wall Street Journal reports that a staggering $3 billion will go to TV ads, easily breaking the record for TV ad spend established four years ago. If political campaigns were implemented like business marketing campaigns, you’d see a lot more imagination and carefulness in marketing selections.

Businesses of all types and sizes have embraced, through necessity, more creative forms of communication while challenging the ideas of the past by using TV and print. While a few of the candidates are trying their hand at social media and other techniques in this election, I feel the excessive amount of the money flowing in and a lack of guts have most campaigns looking as if they came straight out of a 60’s advertising agency.
To see where the campaign is headed concerning marketing, an innovative campaign manager may want to look at predictions showing incredible rise in interactive marketing. Smart businesses know that mass marketing is outdated and target marketing is working.
As disappointing as the media mix is for politicians, I’m even more drained by the message. Negative is in. Telling others what you stand for in a positive way is not “cool” anymore. It’s disappointing that so many seem to think negative marketing works. A look through your local newspapers or flip through your local channels negative ads suggests that most of the citizens think they are effective. Seriously? We’ve had enough. Negative marketing may be a quick fix, but it always hurts in the long run.

Businesses, for the most part, understand this. I learned early on that trash talking the competition was not only bad business, it doesn’t work. It definitely doesn’t work today where real time outlets give every customer the ability to easily scrutinize claims and assumptions. Wouldn’t it be nice if our politicians showed us a little respect and the recognition that goes along with being in the know?

Sure, it’s much more difficult to create a message about what you actually believe in and why we should care, but it’s time that politicians gave it a shot. Here’s an idea….. Approach your political campaign as a long term business where creating trust and building relationships are the goals.
But to be fair, politicians on both sides are already growing their strategies and message. Some are also starting to realize that the technology and tools that successful businesses use in marketing themselves may be a better way.  I believe they do!