How Message Development, Market Research, and Advertising Go Together in Election Campaigns

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Dr. Louis Perron
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In my blog post a week ago, I wrote about what makes a winning campaign message. As said, a message is more than a slogan, a jingle, a motherhood statement or an advocacy for that matter. A message is a coherent, credible and appealing narrative why someone should be elected. For the campaign, it’s the foundation of all communication. In other words, the message should be the basis for your advertising and media campaign. Every ad, leaflet, and speech a campaign produces should at least partly communicate the message. It is also important to use pictures and visuals to communicate the message.

Nowadays, campaigns in most countries spend serious money on digital advertising, which comes just on top of the expenditure on traditional advertising. It is therefore only pragmatic to make sure that one’s message resonates with voters via research before rolling out the campaign. I often observe that though some voters are not as educated as they would want to be, they are nevertheless not stupid. It is therefore important for an ad not to talk down to voters. In that sense, I am skeptical about ads which are limited to mere endorsements, entertainment, and celebrities. Also, interactions with voters should be genuine and believable. Again, detailed qualitative public opinion research plays a crucial role for this. What may be appealing for political insiders may not be what the electorate and in particular what the target audience finds appealing. Research helps bridge this gap.

It is also important to remember that a good campaign is never a rerun of another good campaign. This is especially a potential trap for politicians and campaigners who have been successful in the past. In coaching sessions with established politicians, I often ask them: What will you do differently in your next campaign? Many never thought about it that way.

If a candidate does have a message that is based on research and then produced an advertising campaign that communicates that message in an appealing way, it is important to give the medicine some time to work. As a rule of thumb, a tv ad has to air at least three weeks on prime time before making an impact. Many politicians make the mistake of assuming or hoping for an impact too fast. As a result, their approach becomes an erratic shot-gun attack with ads and messages constantly changing.

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