Wednesday, October 29, 2008

McCain, Obama, and Marketing

Between the two of them, John McCain and Barack Obama will spend close to $400 million trying to convince you to vote for them next week. Four hundred million dollars. One would think, with that kind of money to spend, their marketing would be a whole lot better.

I decided to save all of the direct mail I received from one of the candidates for a while, just for the heck of it. This is three weeks' worth of mailings. From one candidate. I sometimes got two or three letters in a single day. This isn't environmentally friendly, it can't be cheap, and worst of all, it's not even effective.


Rather than wiping out our forests to produce more junk mail, here are a few ideas the political parties and candidates might want to consider (they work for businesses as well):

Be creative

Both sides have been spending a ton of money on video, both TV ads and online. Has any of it been memorable? Has anything from either campaign gone viral? Everything seems very standard, safe, formulaic and boring.

On the other hand, there's the McCain-Obama dance off video. It wasn't produced by any campaign and won't sway any votes but is extremely funny, creative, original, and viral, having been emailed prodigiously. (Thanks to Mike Keliher at Provident Partners for Twittering this link.)

For $400 million, how about stepping outside the box? Give a few thousand bucks to some college kids who are passionate about your ideas and see what they produce.

If you're going to use direct mail, do something interesting

Postal mail doesn't have to be flat (literally or figuratively). Instead of sending a dozen letters, all slight variations on a theme, to the same person over a two-week period, send one big, lumpy, memorable piece.

Create and send out a construction game that lets people "build a better world." Or borrow an idea from business like the supply chain superhero mailing. Yes it was expensive, but it was very effective. Such ideas aren't much of a stretch for a $400 million budget.

Follow The New Rules of Marketing and PR, and Reduce Interruption Marketing

Most of the candidates' marketing expenditures are still being spent either interrupting your favorite TV show with commercials, or worse, interrupting your dinner with phone calls. Has any candidate, ever, annoyed voters into pledging their support?

Instead of producing expensive commercials which are going to be TiVo'd or making phone calls that will be caller ID'd into uselessness, how about focusing more on building relationships with your most passionate supporters and giving them the tools to influence their social network?

Make Data-Driven Decisions

Considering how much of that $400 million supposedly goes to polling, focus groups and the like, you'd think the candidates would know that sending blizzards of junk mail is an expensive waste of time. They've got 50 states to experiment in, and the budget to figure out what works and replicate it.

In the famous words of MarketingSherpa's Anne Holland, "test, test, TEST."

Buy, and Use, a CRM System

Much of the wasteful spending on direct mail and phone calls could be avoided by proper use of CRM (and it's not only political candidates who need one; businesses such as Internet service providers are notorious for screwing up their own promotions).

Knowing, for example, that Chris responds best to direct mailings sent every couple of weeks, while Fran always takes phone calls and Pat doesn't mind being emailed, could save a lot of money, and trees, while solidfying their support.

As a final benefit: if politicians spent their campaign funds a bit more wisely, voters just might trust them a bit more not to squander our tax dollars once they're elected.

*****


Contact Tom Pick: tomATwebmarketcentralDOTcom

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