When Political Campaigns Go Bad (and how most have)

We have reached that point in the political campaign season where most of us would rather set our nether regions ablaze than have to endure another political ad. In fact this election season feels considerably worse than average with two open congressional seats, an open Governor spot, open Attorney General, and a highly competitive Senate election. Just to name a few.

If you are like me you find your email inbox filled each morning, your mailbox over flowing each day, and so many campaign ads that you want to watch nothing other than HBO and Netflix until November 5th. In fact the picture above is just one week of mail from our Rock City Times PO box. Over 20 campaign mailers that were promptly recycled.

However, it does not have to be this way. In fact I would dare say that the campaign fatigue we are all experiencing is only a reflection of how ineffective and out of touch most elected officials have become.

Most of you know me from one of my publications, but let me explain my background a bit. I graduated with a political science degree, spent a few years campaigning in college for various presidential and local elections. I loved the promoting part of campaigns enough to turn a full career of marketing, where I have spent the last 13 years.

In those 13 years marketing has changed dramatically. We have the ability to analyze and craft messages targeted at what people want to hear. The art of marketing has changed as well. Gone (for the most part) are the days of pushing as much information as possible at a potential customer in hopes that you can just annoy them into buying your product. Good marketers try to create a rich relationship with customers and build communication to show they care, if they care that is.

Political campaigns however still employ the 60’s era marketing that you might see on Mad Men. Only it is no longer slick and savvy. Instead it leaves potential voters feeling insulted and exhausted.

In my marketing campaigns and now with my own publishing companies I am interested in long-term relationships, not one time transactions. Unfortunately to the average campaign you are a checked box in their favor rather than a constituent that wants to build a representative relationship with you over the next 2, 4, or 6 years.

Look at campaign advertising. I receive 2-3 emails from a certain congressional candidate that I honestly planned on supporting going into the election. I then receive at least one post card a week from the same candidate. I see him spending entirely too much money on television ads (believe me, I know how much those costs) that rarely highlight any positive aspects of the candidate, rather why I should not vote for the other guy. I get automated calls weekly. Then I see campaign signs littered all over yards, as if seeing your name over and over will somehow make me decide I like you a little more.

What results is a candidate whom I thought would be a good option going in and is now someone I am completely exhausted with. I feel no motivation to get out on November 4th and check his name. In fact if it were not for the fact that I just feel compelled to vote anyway, I would not feel much motivation for any candidate to get out and cast a vote.

And that is the point here. Candidates completely drive away the middle of the road voters. The ones who do not feel compelled by a party connection to get out and do their responsibility for this election.

It would be bad enough if it stopped at this election, but poor campaign marketing impacts future elections. At one point I was receiving 20 emails a day from various Democratic party (both federal and state). I had no choice but to unsubscribe. Assuming the various party offices follow proper spam compliance they will no longer be able to reach me through email in future campaign drives. Further I read fewer mailings and tend to skip over television campaign ads.

Do you think I am alone in this?

It is likely too late for this election, but how could candidates create a campaign that shows they actually care about a potential voter like we all really hope they do?

Speak to voters as if you value their relationship, not just their vote – Guess what, if you win our relationship is much longer than the 8 or so month campaign cycle. Tell voters how you plan to build on that relationship and show them that they matter. Campaign signs do not do that. Also if you win, guess what? A good portion of the people you represent will not have voted for you. Including the guy (or girl) you ran against. Attack ads make me feel that you will behave that way if, and when, we disagree.

Variable Campaign Data – Databases are sort of amazing when used properly.  If I am a potential voter and I have shown you what my voting intention is, stop sending campaign material trying to sway my vote. Periodically thank me for my decision, affirm it, and then remind me to vote. And never do it more than twice a month. If I am not a potential voter, find out why. Am I a previous party voter who is for some reason undecided? Am I an independent voter who wants to hear your reason for voting? Am I a voter of the other party and I want to know why I should break my party affiliation and vote for you? All are very different messages, but with modern technology it is really easy to build targeted messaging to reach a person.

Be a Representative, not a Candidate – Someone has to lose an election. Even if I am supporting you it may be you. Show people you are a representative of the City/State/Country not someone running for the related office. If you are running for mayor I want to know that you really care about this city and even if you are not mayor you will work to make a positive impact. Building messaging that shows why you care, what you plan to do, and how you plan to grow your vision will inspire people to get out to the polls.

I believe we need candidates who care. Candidates who want to make a difference. But even if those candidates exist it is really hard to find them due to the poor messaging. Next election cycle lets work on putting good candidates in place and building good campaigns around them.



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  1. Karen Groce
    October 20, 2014 at 6:58 pm — Reply

    Very well stated Greg. I totally agree. These campaigns have forced me to not watch local channels, except to get a little bit of news. The audio gets muted quite a bit. And the phone calls are not answered. So ready for this election to get over.

  2. Ardee Eichelmann
    October 20, 2014 at 11:24 pm — Reply

    Greg, you nailed it. Thank you. Nice job!

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When Political Campaigns Go Bad (and how most have)