Would you like fries with your vote? The rise of political marketing

Mitt Romney has targeted voters in different market segments in his bid to win the Republican nomination. EPA/Michael Nelson

One of the more interesting techniques emerging from the United States Republican Nomination Primary Contest has been the strategy being used in television advertising by some candidates, in particular Mitt Romney.

It has come at no great surprise to those in political marketing who have been watching political campaigns slowly becoming marketing campaigns for political products. Democracy is dead , folks and it has been replaced by marketers willing to meet your need with their product.

A mass-market approach

In the past, a blitzkrieg approach was used by most political parties to target the market during their campaigns. With no real knowledge of the market itself, mass-market slogans were used to increase levels of awareness and positive attitudes to the political party and the leader.

The “It’s Time” campaign of Gough Whitlam in 1972 was a classic example of this, as was John Howard’s 1998 campaign where he used the slogan “Don’t Go Back to Labor— Australia Deserves Better” to help the voter recall negative experiences about the Labor brand.

The rise of market segmentation

But these campaigns were not able to target voters belonging to certain segments and markets specifically – they hit everyone the same. This meant the message did not have the same level of effectiveness for every market. This meant those you did want to be influenced by your message were not even connecting with it in the first place.

With the increasing professionalism of campaigns, and the influence of marketing and advertising experts, this started to turn around. The 1992 and 1996 US Presidential campaigns, which Bill Clinton, won were the first big campaigns to use an advertising strategy. Both campaigns relied heavily on negative advertising, with over 60% of Democrat advertisements being negative in each campaign, to influence the voter.

The Kevin07 campaign used elements of market segmentation to attract voters. AAP/Alan Porrit

But it wasn’t until the Obama campaign of 2008, which was influenced bu the target marketing tactics of one Kevin Rudd in 2007, that targeted marketing of a political product was used extensively in a presidential race.

The 2012 campaign shows no signs of reversing that trend, with segmentation of state markets being used to run targeted marketing communications. For Republicans this means focusing initially on the core during the Primary contests.

So if you’re Mitt Romney and you want to defeat Newt Gingrich without causing too much damage to your brand, you need to run a targeted campaign. This is what Romney has done to a large extent.

How it is done

Romney has focused his marketing communications on targeting largely Republican voters. As noted by Jeremy Peters from the New York Times, this has meant targeting of TV programs watched by a mainly Republican audience.

A Romney ad targeting Newt Gingrich in Florida.

This has seen some unusual shows used to get the message across to the GOP masses. The Weather Channel, the Food Network and the History Channel have all received scrutiny from the GOP.

The most popular station for Republican voters, Fox, has been flooded with messages from all camps to the point that it has struggled to find places for them in shows that meet the candidates targeted segment profiles, but this could also be down to the 14,000 televised messages that were bought by the Republican campaign teams due to the importance of the Florida primary to all camps.

The future of political marketing

Future primary contests and the Presidential race itself will reinforce the use of segmentation strategies in targeting the market when it comes to political communications.

It won’t just be contained to television advertising. All forms of marketing communications will use a highly segmented approach. Whilst one overall slogan will be used to the entire market to ensure consistency of message, it will be tailored to specific markets and segments, something Barrack Obama did so well at in the 2008 race.

Political marketing has well and truly arrived. The key elements of marketing are used to sell a political product to a political consumer in the same way as a company would market a soft drink, car or household product. The experience is the most important part of the consumption, not just the purchase transaction at the ballot box.

And in a market such as America this makes a lot of sense. In Australia, since the success of Kevin07, we can expect the same in the years and campaigns ahead.