Archive | January, 2016

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

25 Jan

Ads 2

         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. 

Bernie Ad 2

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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