Lifestyle Business

Marketing lessons from the world of politics

COMMONNESS - Bong R. Osorio - The Philippine Star

In the past, backroom political campaigners practiced modern consumer marketing techniques and, in doing so, quickly altered the face of politics forever.

Today, the tide has turned. Marketers have now bowed to political analysts to pick up new knowledge and skills on how stirring minds can also stir brands. Like politicians aiming to win elections, brands court the passionate few to win market shares.

Armed with voluminous data, complicated computer modeling and clever exploitation of social media, political planners are redesigning the way voters think and act. Progressive brand custodians are now taking up these methods to encourage consumers to purchase and support their products. The lines of attack being employed to sway your preferences in political candidates to put on your ballot will soon be used to sway your preferences of merchandise to put into your grocery cart.

The book Spin: How Politics Has the Power to Turn Marketing on its Head by Clive Veroni shares systems on framing the right question to ask intended targets, accommodating ideas from the political arena to be used in marketing, building inspired teams for work efficiency and scenario planning — practices that have been widely brought into play to influence voters as well as consumers.

Adopting the ways of political operators, marketers are now utilizing parallel approaches to influence consumers’ choices and fortify their brands. Social media, open branding, individualized marketing and crowd sourcing are helping develop and grow brands and deliver messages to consumers. The tome also provides a forceful case for reinventing marketing teams to make the most of events and to project brands to attentive targets in groundbreaking fashion. Veroni’s book is rich with insights and lessons from the worlds of politics and marketing and discloses the surprising new ways in which companies will attempt to convince you to vote for their brands. Here are some of them:

• Marketers shouldn’t ignore consumers whose views exist on the extreme borders. If you always aim to occupy the middle of the road, eventually you’ll get run over. Antagonizing your most loyal followers is a risk not worth taking. In the post-mass marketing world, that lesson is more urgent than ever. However, there is a flip side to this coin: there are some folks who are worth antagonizing. And doing so can actually lead to a significant market advantage.

Smart marketers, like smart political strategists, understand that avoiding consumer anger and controversy is increasingly difficult. The trick is not to attempt to dodge it but to learn how to manage it and turn it to your advantage. Rather than avoiding consumer anger, marketers must confront them.

• Even the strongest brands resort to pissing off their own customers to remain true to their brand values. You can do that, notwithstanding your clear and well-defined identity. There are two key questions to consider when taking a stand that might antagonize others. First, is the issue relevant to your most loyal customers? And second, is it consistent with the brand persona?

Early in his presidency Ronald Reagan was already formulating his cowboy persona, later to be solidified in numerous shots of him with a cowboy hat and horses taken at his vacation home. But in the waning years of the Cold War, he needed to project a tough-guy image. His uncompromising firing of thousands of air traffic controllers — and pissing off countless union supporters — was as much a message to Mikhail Gorbachev, Russia’s president then, as it was to the country’s unions. It simply said, “There’s a new gunslinger in town.”

Tom Ford’s brand of sexiness was integral to his vision for the high-end Gucci brand. And it was like a long, cool drink of water to the tastemakers who attended Paris Fashion Week and who were weary of years of arid, high-concept runway shows.  They celebrated him for getting back to the most basic impulse in high fashion: clothes are supposed to make you feel sexy.

• Like politicians and political parties, brands are mining big data. They’re also sorting through your digital breadcrumbs to turn information into actionable insights into why you buy. The real power of Big Data is manifested in the fact that a virtual tap on the shoulder is replacing the knock on the door. It’s not about targeting a few households on the block; it’s about targeting you specifically. It’s about your Facebook friend sending you a post suggesting that you donate to a political campaign or vote for a particular candidate. And sometime soon, that same friend will be recommending his favorite brand of peanut butter.

When that happens, it will be the end of a hundred-year-long run of mass marketing — arguably the most powerful communications tool of the present generation and one that shaped how we chose everything, from our political leaders to our bathroom cleaners.  And just as mass marketing needed mass media in order to grow, so the new age of micro targeting will need personalized media to grow. Social media tools such as Twitter have turned you into broadcasters. You don’t have to be CNN to broadcast news to the world. As an ordinary citizen with a smartphone, you can broadcast to the entire world instantaneously.

• It’s not what you say but how you say it that will take on greater importance. Marketers are finding that the two levers they’ve traditionally had full control over — time and message content — are no longer theirs to manipulate as they wish. How well they respond to the need for speedier response times and more participatory message creation will be critical to their future success.

• What happens on the Internet stays on the Internet. In the Internet age, the control freaks will find they have about as much command of their environment as a novice on ice skates. The more they try to assert full control, the more it keeps slipping out from under them. Keep it up and chances are pretty good you’ll end up on your behind.  Just like Barbra Streisand.

In the early 2000s, Streisand attempted to use her star power — and some high-priced lawyers — to exert control over the Internet. She tried to get an image pulled from the Internet after it had already been posted and reposted countless times. The story begins innocently, when an environmental group began the daunting task of photographing the California coastline from the air in order to have a complete visual record that would enable tracking of coastal erosion over time.  Of the more than 12,000 aerial images showing the entire cost, one included a shot of Streisand’s home in Malibu. In a superstar display of “techiness,” she declared this an outrageous invasion of privacy and sued the organization for US$50 million, demanding that the image be removed.

Needless to say, the minute word of the suit got out, people went in search of the image. Streisand’s impracticable crusade meant that over a million people who would never have gone to the website of an environmental group got to see the image she wanted so desperately to hide. Techdirt blogger Michael Masnick dubbed this phenomenon of attempting to remove something from the Internet — only to end up getting more exposure — the Streisand Effect. It was an expensive lesson for the diva but it offers a cautionary tale about the futility of trying to assert control over the Internet.

• If you blow the right whistle you’ll attract your most committed tribe of followers. Prime Minister of Canada Stephen Harper snubbed Earth Day in 2008, brightly lighting 24 Sussex, his official residence, as the world powered down. The move earned the ire of environmentalists and sounded a “dog whistle” for loyalists.

American fashion designer Tom Ford’s YSL fragrance ad of 2000, featuring a nearly nude Sophie Dahl — an English author and fashion model — generated complaints but resonated with the stylish crowd. Harper and Ford understood this principle very well. Their actions built tremendous loyalty, even while it angered others.

• Advertising is dying. Speed is crucial for marketers to seize opportunities and confront challenges. “Speed Kills” is an axiom coined by James Carville, who led Bill Clinton’s presidential campaign in 1992 — a year after CNN birthed the 24-hour news cycle. In brand marketing speed still kills: Oreo’s “You can still dunk in the dark” ad, which was conceived, written, designed, approved and tweeted during the 34-minute power outage that interrupted the 2012 Superbowl, supports this point.  The ad generated some half-billion impressions, stealing the show on a night when 30 seconds of airtime — to reach 100 million viewers — cost $4 million. The secret to Oreo’s success “was not its creative brilliance but the sheer speed with which it was executed. Agile and responsive, Oreo joined the public conversation in real time, diving into the “democratized world of communications, where the consumer is no longer just the passive receiver of marketing messages.”

At the core of every political outing and every marketing program is the target audience. You are the object of all attempts to connect and create awareness. In your position as both elector and purchaser, you are the target at which billions of pesos are thrown in the hope of changing what you think and do. Through the years, the twin roles of voters and consumers have united. The big marketing dogs are learning new tricks on how to connect with target consumers. And these lessons are emerging from the complex universe of politics.

* * *

Email bongosorio@yahoo.com for comments, questions and suggestions. Thank you for communicating.

  • Latest
Are you sure you want to log out?

Philstar.com is one of the most vibrant, opinionated, discerning communities of readers on cyberspace. With your meaningful insights, help shape the stories that can shape the country. Sign up now!

or sign in with