4 lessons marketers can find in political ads

Yes, it’s that lovely time of year again. No, I’m not talking about the brilliant changing of the leaves. I’m talking about Election Day campaigning. Ugh. You’ve probably noticed the uptick in campaign commercials.

Anyway, let’s see what we can learn from them.

Try a personal approach

Christine O’Donnell is a Tea Party/Republican candidate with a decidedly soft approach in her recent ad.

Smart move to counter the loud public image of the Tea Party. The biggest problem is it goes a little too far with “I’m you.”

For someone who has a questionable reputation and an allegedly shaky relationship with the truth, she might not want to assume her audience welcomes being associated with that.

Lesson learned: Soft and personal can be great, but make sure you are sincere. And know your limits. Before you say “I’m you,” make sure there’s nothing in your history to make people not want to be you.

Use video: In their own words

Joe Sestak is using damning video of Pat Toomey to try and win the U.S. Senate seat for Pennsylvania.

A man in his own words can be very effective with the right message—positive or negative. Hearing Toomey say, “I think the solution is to eliminate corporate taxes altogether,” has a pretty big impact.

Lesson learned: Video testimonials from actual customers can be very powerful. The footage you capture should be brief and meaningful.

Third-party evidence

Both candidates for Pennsylvania governor (Tom Corbett and Dan Onorato) use newspaper clippings in at least one of their ads. Onorato’s pack more punch because the headlines mention Corbett. But Corbett shows clips in which the viewer is left to imply Onorato was responsible. You don’t want to leave your audience guessing.

Lesson learned: Third-party evidence can be quite convincing. But make sure the evidence is clear and leaves no questions or doubt about the truth. Also, stick with your strength. (Tom Corbett’s other ads are very strong, so I’m not sure why he aired this one.)

Know when to use a spokesperson

John Adler has so far run a pretty nasty campaign against Jon Runyan, a former pro football player. Runyan’s response was to come out with his own ads refuting what Adler says. The problem? While it’s hard to argue with what Runyan says, he sounds like a football player who may have taken too many hits. That could hurt him.

Lesson learned: Responding to your competition’s attacks, especially if untrue, can be a good idea. However, you’ll want to choose an approach that leaves an entirely positive impression. First step, choose a solid spokesperson.

An added note on involving the competition

Also, you should be careful how you involve the competition. If most of your images or words are spent on the competition, you must have a clear, strong message or you run the risk of accidentally advertising for your competitor.

Oh, and those flimsy campaign signs littering every inch of green space near the road? Lesson is pretty obvious there: Advertising shouldn’t litter, it should glitter.


Disclaimer: I am in no way trying to influence how you vote or put one candidate in a better light than another. This blog post is meant to be purely about marketing. However, the one thing I will say about voting is this: Get as many facts as you can and make up your own mind.


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