Thursday, November 4, 2010

Marketing lessons from the November 2010 election

Now that the dust has settled and emotions have died down a bit, it's time to take an objective look at some of the more high profile campaigns and see what we can learn from a marketing perspective. This is not about the issues, but rather about the tactics and strategies. What worked? What backfired?

Meg Whitman in California and Christine O'Donnell in Delaware both made similar strategic blunders. You may be able to list off a few, but I think the main mistake was taking a victim stance. Whitman had the housekeeper thing and the "whore" comment to deal with and O'Donnell was facing a vote of no-confidence from leaders of her own party. I don't think voters were moved so much by the substance of any of it as by their demeanor in responding to it. Both took a kind of "tell them to stop picking on me" stance. The lesson? You wont be perceived as a leader if you're busy playing the victim. Voters want leaders, especially in tough times. It may be cliche, but it's still true: The best defense is a good offense.

Sharon Angle started dropping in the polls when she started running some anti-illegal immigration ads that depicted illegals as violent and dangerous. While most of the country wants much stronger border enforcement and even stricter enforcement against illegals already here, I don't think they blame Raul for not wanting to spend another day in Mexico. She could easily have run ads that were anti-illegal immigration without seeming to attack the character of the illegal immigrant. The marketing take-away? It's okay to attack your competitor's product, or even your competitor, but don't insult your competitor's customers in the process.

Jack Conway tried to raise "reasonable doubt" about Rand Paul by bringing up some alleged going's on from 20+ years earlier and it cost him dearly. He might have done okay if he had stopped at "mocked the Bible", but when he went into "why did he tie a woman up and..." it became clear to any listener over the age of 25 that he was referring to a fraternity house hazing type of situation. Instead of raising doubts about his opponent, he made himself look silly and desperate. The race was never close after that. The lesson? Planting a seed of doubt can be effective. Burying it 10 feet underground will just wear you out.

These are just a few of the free educational case studies that play out every election season. Even if you aren't an activist or a party hack, political campaigns can be worth paying attention to. After all they are aimed at influencing a single decision at a single point in time that only comes around every two years or less. What a challenge!