Selling Trump and Clinton; what makes great political advertising?

Sarah Homewood
By Sarah Homewood | 12 October 2016
Donald Trump. Credit: Reddit.

In case you've been living under a rock, the US presidential election is a mere 27 days away and to mark the last days of the campaign, which will decided America's 44th President, New York's Festival of International Advertising has asked top creatives on what it takes to create a top political campaign.

While the fundamentals of brand building remain as important as ever, many say that social media and the rise of technology has not only changed the game for brands and marketers, but also political candidates.

EVP and chief creative officer for US agency Walton Isaacson Vida Cornelious says the onset of technology and social media “totally upped the ante”.

“The 2006-07 Obama campaign marked the pinnacle of galvanising and creating a movement via social media,” Cornelious says.

“That was by far a game changer campaign in so many ways. It gave consumers a voice and allowed them to be heard and responded to in real time. The backbone of that campaign was in social media.

"The audience can connect over any issues that arise and react to the message in real time...social networks now have all the power to sway opinion, not the candidate.”

AdWeek predicted earlier this year that political advertising in this election campaign is estimated to hit a record US$11.4 billion, up 20% from 2012, and that digital media will break the $1 billion mark for the first time. Previously, political ad campaign spends were secured in traditional media, TV and radio.

Bill Clinton campaign alum David Angelo, the founder and chairman of David&Golialth, outlined that another side effect of the rise of social is that candidates need to ensure authenticity.

“You have to be cognisant of every single thing you say or do or the public will call you out,” he says. “At the same time, there’s greater opportunity to deliver a grassroots message on a massive scale. Once you reach those advocates, you can amplify your message even further.”

Commenting previously on the Australian Federal Election, VCCP founder Charles Vallance said that political advertising tends to enthral ad agencies because it gives them permission to scare the living daylights out of their target audience.

“Many of the great political ad campaigns have fear arousal at their core,” he says. “'Labour Isn't Working' is one of the definitive ads of British politics and it certainly helped turn an election, securing victory for the Tories and ushering in the Thatcherite era.

“In some ways, however, it was an exception. Normally it is the incumbent that uses fear and the challenger that uses hope. In this case it was the other way round as the Tories were the party of opposition at the time.”

Joe Fuld, president of Washington D.C. based advertising agency The Campaign Workshop, says that a candidate can't win an election based on negative ads alone.

“Having good opposition research and polling is important to crafting a contrastive message that resonates with voters,” he says.“You can’t win a campaign with just negative ads, you need to create a contrast - why vote for our candidate instead of the other. These days you need to do both to win.”

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