Tag Archives: Prospect Theory

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

25 Jan Ads 2

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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Vikings Stadium Victory: The Power of Social Democracy

12 May

When the founding fathers guaranteed the right to petition government, they never conceived of Facebook or Twitter.  But the mass democratization that just occurred in Minnesota just may be what James Madison had in mind when he conceived of the Bill of Rights.

Artist rendering of a new Vikings stadium

In a stadium debate that was inexorably mired in partisan politics and collapsing like the Metrodome roof, Vikings fans took to the internet, social media and their phones to drive the votes in favor of building a new “People’s Stadium.”

To be sure, the Vikings and labor unions helped amass their fans and members to call and write their legislators.  But web analytics also show that there was a substantial organic movement among citizens.

Figure 1- Google Trends

In the days leading up to the final stadium vote in the Minnesota legislature, there was a substantial groundswell in what digital analysts call “search” and “share.”  Google Trends data (Figure 1) shows the exponential rise in Minnesotans searching for information on the Vikings stadium leading up to the floor vote in the House of Representatives on May 7th.   Additionally, the number of unique page views to vikings.com also rose ahead of and during the vote. (Figure 2)

Figure 2 – Daily unique page views

But perhaps one of the Vikings’ more effective strategies was enlisting their more than 1.3 million Facebook fans.  It’s a strategy they’ve tried before.  With a post on May 4th, the Vikings asked their followers to contact their representatives. (Figure 3)

Figure 3 – Facebook Post, May 4th, 2012

That alone cannot explain why thousands of constituents followed through.  But there’s a theoretical framework that does.  It’s called Prospect Theory.   The theory was developed in 1979 by Princeton psychology professor Daniel Kahneman who later won the Nobel Prize in Economics.  In its simplest form, it holds that people are risk averse.  In the case of the stadium debate, Minnesotans in the end were more afraid of possibly losing the Vikings than they were about gaining stability in taxes and state finances.  There were plenty of worthy and important arguments about jobs, public debt, and voter referenda, but in the end it was fear of losing the Vikings—perceived or real—that perhaps carried the day.

At least one key lawmaker the acknowledged the importance of the social movement at the governor’s May 10th news conference following the final passage of the stadium bill.

“You made an incredible mark on your legislators, I can tell you,” said Sen. Tom Bakk.

 

Bakk told how lawmakers often times share with each other how many emails they get.  “You know, if you get six or eight on something, people talk about it.  I got 987 between 10 o’clock one night and 6 o’clock the next morning,” said Bakk.

That’s petition.  That’s power.  And it’s another example of the new rise in social democracy.

Natalie Strand and the Power of “I Can”

21 Nov

                Amazing things happen when you put your mind to it.  Natalie Strand has proven it for most of her life.  Diagnosed with Type-1 diabetes when she was just 12 years old, she didn’t let it hold her back.  At an age when most adolescents would view such a diagnosis as a barrier, Strand viewed it as an opportunity.   

             The changes to her body brought on by diabetes led to an intense curiosity about medicine.  That curiosity led to medical school.  Medical school led to Oxford.  Oxford eventually led to the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota and then to the faculty of UCLA.  These days most American television viewers don’t know Dr. Strand by her title, they know her by her victory—winner of The Amazing Race.   

             Dr. Strand shared her story and her secrets to success this weekend with the families connected to the MinnDakotas chapter of the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation.  Each step along her journey Dr. Strand says she’s succeeded by eliminating the words “I can’t” from her vocabulary.

            “I think it’s a very simple thing.  You just have to decide to do it,” Strand said.  “Whatever it is that you are doing, if you decide at the onset that no matter what comes up, you’re going to do whatever it takes.  You’re never going to say I can’t.”

              For most of us, the keys to success are not that simple.  To be sure, they weren’t for Dr. Strand either.   Social psychologists have come up with a unique model to explain how we approach personal obstacles.  In their Theory of Trying, Richard Bagozzi and Paul Warshaw explained that people evaluate goals based upon their attitudes of success and their attitudes toward failure.  (Journal of Consumer Research, 1990)  Failure combined with fear can be powerful motivators—we are often more afraid of loss than we are motivated by success.  (Kahneman, 1979)  It’s all about framing.  Dr. Strand has succeeded by continuously framing her life in terms of success.  Failure is not an option. 

             How refreshing in an era of unemployment, stagnation, and polarization.   At a time when our economy and our political system prove “it can’t,” along comes an amazing winner who shows that as individuals “we can.”

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