What Google Tells us About Who’s Ahead in Iowa

1 Feb

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         The latest polls from Iowa promise a potentially tight race for the first-in-the-nation caucuses.   The last poll from the Des Moines Register shows Donald Trump with a strong lead over Ted Cruz and Hillary Clinton in a statistical dead heat with Bernie Sanders.

         Polling in general has come under increased scrutiny itself.  Whether for political races or consumer research, tried and true methodologies have been blown up by the abandonment of land-line telephones.   Many have researchers have switched to online surveys, but even those methods face questions for their reliability.

         One emerging tool is internet search.  The CDC now uses search as a “canary in the coal mine” to alert them of pockets of emerging illnesses such as the flu.   Google Trends has shown surprising reliability in showing the strength of candidates too.  

          The latest Google Trends data out of Iowa clearly show that Trump and Hillary have the momentum.  (Figure 1)

Google Trends Iowa 1-31-16

Figure 1

 

         Search is not 100% reliable.  While Google Trends showed former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum with a strong upward trend going into Iowa in 2012 it didn’t necessarily indicate he would win—he did.

         But just as it showed Donald Trump picking up strong gains after the first republican debate in 2015 it does indicate social buzz and momentum and thereby provides a unique tool in measuring consumer, and in this case, political interests.

 

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Presidential Campaign Ads – What Bernie, Hillary, Cruz and Trump are Really Trying to Say to US

25 Jan Ads 2

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         Don’t touch that dial.  Despite the more sophisticated uses of social media, big data, and earned media, the political TV ad is far from dead.

         All of the major presidential candidates have so far deployed a limited air campaign in hopes of attracting money and votes.  But as a means of communication, are they effective or even persuasive to their intended audiences?

         There are clear strategies behind the first ads from Bernie Sanders, Hillary Clinton, Ted Cruz and Donald Trump.   At least two of these ads are very similar to product introduction campaigns we would see in the consumer-packaged goods category.   In many respects, the candidates are consumer-packaged products.  But each one takes a different strategy in attracting support through their campaign commercials heading into the voting in Iowa, New Hampshire, and South Carolina.

         Perhaps the most surprising ad so far comes from one of the most surprising candidates—Bernie Sanders.  In a field where every candidate is in some way shouting at the voters, Sanders found a powerful way connect without saying a word. 

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Screen frame from Bernie Sanders’ “America” campaign ad

         Sanders’ use of the Simon & Garfunkel song “America” underneath the imagery of everyday Americans and people packing into Sanders’ campaign rallies give the illusion of a country longing to re-discover itself.   This is an aspirational ad that plays to our emotions and hopes through the use of a beloved folk song from the late 1960’s.  

         For Millennials, the ad appeals to their need of belonging and their search to build a future in their own image.   For their baby boomer parents, the Simon and Garfunkel song is a powerful priming cue—a time machine that takes them back to their own idealistic youth when they too wanted to “look for America.”  

         Keep in mind, when “America” was recorded in 1968, the country was at a pivotal political and social crossroad.  That year witnessed the assassinations of Martin Luther King Jr., Bobby Kennedy, the Tet Offensive in Vietnam, and the upheaval at the Democratic National Convention in Chicago.   The song that so much appealed to a new generation of Americans at that time has now been re-branded by Sanders as anthem for another new generation.  

          All good advertising should create an emotional bond between the product and the viewer—this one makes a powerful attempt.

         Where Sanders effectively uses nostalgia as an ad strategy, Trump just as effectively uses fear.

         By playing up to voters’ fear of terrorism Trump is effectively using Prospect Theory to mine for votes.   The behavioral economic theory holds that people are more fearful of potential loss than they are assured of a potential gain.   By tying terrorism to immigration, Trump uses those fears to make an argument that he is the candidate who will keep them safe.

 

         Hillary Clinton doesn’t outright use fear as her strategy, but she certainly is trying to appeal to voters’ anxieties about their economic and social struggles.

         In her latest ad, Clinton is not necessarily competing against Sanders, but instead republicans to whom she believes are not looking out for all Americans.

          Her message argument is that she’s fighting for all people who think they don’t have a chance.

 

          Finally, Ted Cruz trumpets his competence and authenticity.

         In many respects he’s re-introducing himself to voters in his latest TV ad as they prepare to head to the polls.   This ad is a clear appeal to rural voters reminding them of his Christian faith, commitment to freedom, and his political accomplishments.  While the ad doesn’t mention any specific opponent, it clearly attempts to differentiate himself from Donald Trump and Marco Rubio as the accomplished conservative in the race.

 

         When you break down all of the ads, there is a distinct strategy to each of them. (Figure 1)  They all have individual targeted audiences and a fairly clear message argument. 

Campaign Ad Graphic

Figure 1

         Arguably, Sanders may have the most powerfully aspirational ad of them all.  Trump effectively uses fear to motivate us to pay attention to his message.  Clinton plays to our desire to get ahead, and Cruz appeals to his competence help restore America.

         These are just four ads from four of the top candidates.   The race is young.  Stand by… and don’t touch that dial.

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Wide Left–Lessons From Vikings Kicker Blair Walsh on Crisis Communications

18 Jan

Blair Walsh Graphic

        Brands that drop the ball could very well learn from a man who kicks the ball.

        When the Minnesota Vikings field goal kicker Blair Walsh missed the 27 yard chip shot that could have won their NFC wild card game against the Seattle Seahawks, he found himself in the crosshairs of crisis and scorn.

        The game time temperature was -6, but the Vikings loss burned fans with the heat of decades of blown-up playoff dreams.  The backlash against Walsh on social media was swift and condemning—and that’s being overly polite.

        Walsh’s response could have taken many paths, among them hiding in the bowels of the stadium with the dirty laundry—and no one would have blamed him.  Instead, he did something admirably remarkable.  He didn’t run.  He didn’t dodge.  He didn’t blame.

        He owned it.

        Walsh’s contrition is a road map for brands, corporations and individuals on crisis communication.

        His actions after that missed field goal can be broken down by his own apology, admission of failure, and plan for corrective action.

        First, his apology.  As reporters descended upon Walsh in the locker room perhaps expecting excuses, they instead got a lesson in humility.  The sting of TV lights, microphones and sharp question can wither mere mortals.  Walsh never blinked.  He looked into all of those cameras and apologized.  He kept his composure for more than five minutes before breaking down in tears only after his teammates came to console him.

        Second, his admission of failure.  Walsh could not have been more upfront.  “It’s my fault,” he said.  “I should be able to put that through.  I’m the only one who didn’t do my job.”

        Third, his plan of action.  Walsh promised to essentially get back to work and fix it in the off-season.  “I will be working hard to erase this from my career,” he said.  Under the circumstances, one can forgive him for not having specific details.  Brands and corporations get no such leeway—their plans must be timely, actionable and measurable. 

New Issues Scale

Figure 1

        Public Relations practitioner Phillip Lesly argues it can be a difficult dance re-shaping public opinion after a negative event.   On any given issue that divides public opinion he argues that people will fall into several groups. (Figure 1)  Lesley holds that 1% on either side of the issue are zealots—those wholeheartedly accepting or rejecting Walsh’s actions.  Another 45% on either side are leaners.  The 8% in the middle are thought leaders that can greatly influence the leaners. 

        Blair didn’t necessarily realize it but a day after the game, he got an important gift from a set of thought leaders that may have helped him soften his deepest critics and shift the leaners.  It turns out those thought leaders were first graders—just six years old.

        The students from Northpoint Elementary School in Blaine sent him letters and pictures assuring him all was forgiven. (Figure 2) 

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Figure 2 – Letter to Vikings kicker Blair Walsh from Northpoint Elementary School 1st Grader

     “Everyone makes mistakes,” little Sophia wrote.  “You can still help the Vikings win the Super Bowl next year.”

       Walsh wisely delayed his flight back home to visit the children in person.  It was a made-for TV-moment, and TV and the kids didn’t disappoint.

        “Kids like you are willing to do kind things like that for someone you don’t even know,” said Walsh.  “It really meant a lot to me and I just wanted to say thank you.”

        The NFL books will forever record the last Vikings play of the 2015 season was a missed field goal wide to the left.   Let the record also show Blair Walsh’s response to teammates and fans was straight through the uprights. 

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How REI’s Black Friday #OPTOUTSIDE Is Really About Something Else

27 Nov

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     On Black Friday shoppers across America will run for the malls while REI employees run for the hills.

     In a much bally-hoo’d announcement this fall, REI placed core values ahead of core retail expectations.  By closing its stores on Black Friday, REI didn’t just thumb its nose at Thanksgiving Day retail creep, it effectively stuck its hiking pole in a place where consumer demands don’t shine.  Sideways.

     REI’s decision was a call to action—go outside.

      The decision to lock the doors on November 27th is more than a YoutTube video on “REI’s Day Off.”   It’s actually a clever and strategically sophisticated effort to engage and build followers and solidify its brand as the preeminent outfitter for outdoor discovery. 

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Figure 1

     Since the announcement, REI has launched a multi-channel effort to encourage people to also take Black Friday off with the #optoutside hash tag campaign. (Figure 1)  On Twitter, it bought market-targeted tweets with countdown clocks to Black Friday and sent out replies to its followers with a link to the hiking trails near them.  During Thanksgiving week, it bought full-page newspaper ads and on Facebook it encouraged followers to post their outdoor plans—it received more than a million engagements.

     At the heart of the strategy for REI is brand building. In a retail environment where consumers can buy anything through Amazon and where outfitters such as Cabelas are aggressively opening new stores, REI has to fight to maintain market share.  Even discounters such as Walmart and Target are threats with their sporting departments and growing online offerings. 

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Figure 2

     By staking its claim against Black Friday, REI is hoping to reposition itself in the mind of the consumer.  It’s strategically telling outdoor enthusiasts that REI is the only brand that cares not just about the outdoors, but also about its employees and customers and therefore occupies a coveted spot in the upper left hand corner of my branding typology in figure 2.  That’s a strong brand position to stake because it gives both authenticity and credibility to REI’s #optoutside call to action.  It’s about empowerment in much the same way that Nike urges its followers to “Just Do It.”

     Granted, REI is a different kind of business model.  It’s a co-op owned by members such as myself and not Wall Street investors.  It’s a community.  But like all retailers it does face the same economic pressures of growth and stability.  Still, REI is betting that whatever sales it loses on Black Friday it will gain in brand identification and loyalty.  That builds an exponentially more sustainable consumer relationship than by opening its doors a bit earlier on Black Friday—or opening them at all.

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Britain’s John Lewis Gives Us The Best Christmas Ad So Far

16 Nov

John Lewis Spotlight Pix     One of the best advertisements of the holiday season is out.  What makes it remarkable is that it doesn’t just sell a brand, it sells a cause.  That cause is the gift of giving oneself in a different way.  And it comes from a brand that Americans have likely never heard of.

     Britain’s John Lewis department store has built a reputation in recent years for memorable, emotional, and strategic holiday advertisements that lead the viewer on a journey to giving.  This year that journey leads viewers on more than a path of finding the perfect gift within a John Lewis store.

     The brilliance and formula of Lewis’ ad agency adam&eveDDB is that it consistency makes us see Christmas through the innocent eyes of children.   This year that child is a girl named Lily whose inquisitive eyes peer into the heavens in search of the stars but becomes moon struck instead.  Her man on the moon discovery becomes not just a metaphor for giving, but for discovering the elderly living in their own vacuums of space and loneliness.

     The ad is strategically created to use the power of emotion to not just change beliefs and attitudes, but to contribute to Age UK, an agency that works and advocates for the elderly. (Figure 1)

Figure 1 - Donation page to Age UK

Figure 1 – Donation page to Age UK

     Cleverly,  John Lewis takes it a step further.   It created a mobile phone app that allows people game against other users and look up more information on the moon.  By encouraging those users to engage with the app, it creates a new community to interact with the brand.

     It takes a strong and brave brand to shift focus from itself and invest valuable marketing dollars to promote social awareness.   We’ve seen some admirable examples in recent years.  One of my favorites is Chevy’s recent Super Bowl commercial promoting the Purple Roads campaign for cancer survivors.

     Intel also spent a considerable amount of brand equity to convince apathetic viewers that girls can and should change the world.

     Likewise, there’s Coca-Cola.   Coke’s brand has always been about sharing happiness.  After all, it taught the world to sing.  It also recently taught us to share random acts of kindness.

     They’re all brave examples of promoting social awareness.  And for John Lewis, it’s especially fitting to choose the holidays as a time to spread the love and search for the men on the moons hidden right in front of us all.

 

Wisdom Lives Here — a Tribute to Advertising Scholar Dr. John Eighmey

24 Sep

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My grad school advisor and main professor from the University Minnesota, Dr. John Eighmey, has just retired.  As the Mithum Chair of Advertising at the School of Journalism and Mass Communication, John started and nurtured the professional masters program in strategic communication.  The following is the speech I was asked to give on behalf of the grad school alumni at John’s retirement celebration.

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     There’s room on the second floor of Murphy Hall with a name attached to it.  It’s room 211.  And the name on the door is John Eighmey.

      On one of my last trips through Murphy in the spring I took a picture of the name on the door and instagrammed it with a simple caption:  “Wisdom lives here.” John Eighmey's Door

      A lot of “like” buttons were hit that day.  John, one of your former students commented with the words, “Good Turf.”

      To know John is to know his love for great metaphors.  This one worked.

      You created the turf where wisdom grows and lives are transformed.   And when you stood on the turf of the classroom there was no one better.   You often talked about “gift-like objects.”  And we laughed.  But we got it.  We got it because you were and are that gift-like object to us.

     You’ve performed so many roles in your professional career.  Scholar.  Advertiser.  Regulator.  Researcher.  Everyone in this room would strongly argue you saved your best role for last:  Teacher.

      We’ve all had teachers that made a difference.  That someone who held the magic keys to unlock the passions and excitement we didn’t know we had.  You taught us that insights were nothing more than truths hidden in plain sight.   And for most us as students, you made us see the insights in ourselves that no one else knew was there.  You held the keys and unlocked the locks.

     And what you taught us we can still recite in perfect memory.

     There’s Eighmey’s Law: In order for an advertisement to be effective it must get noticed.  And in order for it to get noticed, it must be different.

Myself and Dr. John Eighmey at his retirement celebration

Myself and Dr. John Eighmey at his retirement celebration

     John applied the same law to the formation of the master’s program in strategic communication.  He made it different.  He designed it as a cohort model.  I like to call it an agency model.  Because each one of  us in the cohort came from a different professional discipline where we served each other, taught each other, supported each other.  Failure was not an option.  I defy you to find any online program to meet the same rigor.

     For all the Hallmark cards you helped send, for all of the long distance phone calls you helped connect, for all of corporate profits you helped protect, for all of the consumer insights you helped reveal we know that your greatest work is in this room.

     John, you didn’t just teach, you transformed lives, built careers.

     You fearlessly taught us that, “When it doubt, rocket out.”

     Wisdom lives here.   And because of it, we’re all walking on good turf tonight.

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Note: John is now retired, but still active in advertising analysis and criticism.  Follow his blog at the Psychology of Advertising.

GOP Presidential Buzz — Who’s Got it, Who Doesn’t

10 Aug

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      It was reality TV at its best.  There was shouting, insults, bombastic rhetoric, and… Rosie O’Donnell.   Welcome to the first 2016 GOP presidential debates.  As one political scientist noted, it was Jerry Springer without Jerry.  No, this is not your father’s Republican Party anymore.  But television viewers ate it up.   They didn’t just watch, they tweeted, liked, searched, posted, and searched some more.

     This modern day media consumption phenomena creates real-time winners and losers.  Marketers call it “buzz.”  Google calls it “search.”  Whatever you call it, Donald Trump and Carly Fiorina owned it during the debates and it will likely deliver a short term boost to their campaigns. 

Figure 1

Figure 1

     The data from Google Trends shows that during the prime time debates, Donald Trump dominated web searches of people looking for more information on him and his presidential campaign. (Figure 1)  It doesn’t hurt that Trump has transformed himself into what political scientist David Schultz would call a politainer.  None of his nine competitors on the stage came close to the internet interaction he drove throughout the evening debates. 

     During the early undercard event called the “happy hour” debates, former Hewlett Packard executive Carly Fiorina also dominated internet buzz. (Figure 2)  Arguably, she commanded the attention in a more credible way.  Fiorina’s presence and responses were articulate, commanding, and authoritative.  She wasn’t just a candidate, she was a one-person c-suite—who just happens to be a woman.  She clearly connected with the audience in ways her early evening cohort did not.   GOP Debates 3  8-15

     What both Trump and Fiorina accomplished is part of the modern day political calculus.  In reality, it’s not much different from consumer product campaigns.  Buzz is one of the seven essential marketing drivers that brands from Proctor & Gamble to Beyonce use to grow their business.  

     Four years ago, I conducted a similar analysis of how buzz predicted the top finishers in the Iowa Caucuses where Rick Santorum won by a handful of votes.  The key is to stay consistent in the messaging and deliver enough strategic product news (campaign stances/messaging) to lead the followers on a journey toward activation—that is, contributing money and voting.   Santorum wasn’t able to sustain that early momentum and later dropped out of the race.  The jury is still out on whether Trump can also sustain the momentum, especially given his public statements about women and his not-so-wise fight with Fox’s Megyn Kelly.

     Social media is also part of the new calculus and contributes significantly to buzz and search.  On Twitter alone, interactions with the GOP debate topped major sporting events.

     It’s also no coincidence that Facebook co-sponsored the GOP debates with Fox News.  Facebook reports that 7.5 million people had more than 20 million interactions on the broadcast—that includes posts, likes and shares.   This is the new modern-day political engagement.   The candidates answered questions from Facebook during the debates through the channel’s own engagement campaign that drew 5 million views and 40,000 responses.   On the day of the event, Trump’s staff used the new “live” on Facebook feature to stream his arrival in Cleveland.   As of this writing it has earned more than two million views and 10,000 shares.

 

     Welcome to the 2016 presidential campaign.  As the first GOP debates showed, it will be a different kind of series of events with online engagement becoming increasing important drivers for securing funds and votes.

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