By James McIntyre: Student ID 88027183
Much of politics is marketing. US presidential elections are very big business, and by the time the current one is over, it will have cost several billion dollars in campaigning and advertising in the attempt to persuade, mislead, frighten or inspire the electorate.
David and Goliath?
Two products are being marketed. One, Hillary Clinton, is a conventional old school politician, a polished and experienced campaigner with a long and distinguished career in public service, extensive political connections, and with a massive fund raising machine behind her.
The other is Donald Trump, a man who has never held a public office of any type, who has never previously been involved in a political campaign, and who has no discernible competence, expertise or knowledge in any public policy field. His media appearances are incoherent and rambling, his persona graceless and offensive, and nothing in his past suggests he is capable of performing the position he seeks and for which he is so manifestly unqualified.
Financially there is no contest. The Clinton political machine wins hands down. By August this year it was raising and spending nearly three times as much as the Trump camp. In the key television field, it is even more lop-sided with an estimated 95% of future scheduled ad buys coming from the Clinton campaign.
A skilled politician with massive financial support vs a buffoonish amateur with only a fraction of the financial resources should suggest a totally one sided campaign. Yet Trump is assured the votes of tens of millions of American voters, is competitive in many polls, indeed leading in many, and at the time of writing is estimated to have a nearly 40% chance of winning the election.
How can we explain this from a marketing perspective?
Retention vs Acquisition
We can view an election as a market challenge between customer (i.e. voter) retention and customer acquisition, and a successful strategy could focus on winning new voters or retaining old ones. Certainly a large proportion of voters in any election are locked in their political preferences and we can consider them in the light of Republican or Democrat brand equity as examples of customer loyalty. The marketing challenge with these voters is less in convincing them of a choice than it is with motivating them to come out and vote at all.
Trump is viewed unfavourably by most market segments (female and Hispanic voters to name just two) and has limited prospects at significant customer acquisition. Trump’s strategy is therefore essentially one of customer retention, specifically a reliance upon the votes of the key Republican demographic of white male voters, and his success will depend upon his ability to retain or grow the votes of this segment. In this he has been spectacularly successful. He easily defeated all his challengers in the Republican primary contests and received ‘more votes than any candidate in Republican history.’ He is the dominant brand in his key market segment and will comfortably win this demographic.
‘There’s no such thing as bad publicity’
Did I mention Clinton was out fundraising Trump by nearly three to one? Yes, why yes I did. To this however we need to add the value of free media which reveals a completely different story. The excerpt below from the New York Times shows nearly 2 billion dollars in free media was given to Trump by the end of March 2016 alone, dwarfing any other potential candidate. While much of this publicity was negative, its value in maintaining and raising the profile for Trump has been immense, and it transforms the media picture that we might imagine from examining campaign budgets alone. Trump is not the media underdog.
How can we as marketers evaluate this? Clearly a financial ‘silver bullet’ metric is inappropriate. In the zero-sum game of the election, even for the winner it would be difficult to calculate a financial ROI that would justify the immense figures that will have been spent. It would perhaps be possible to derive clunky metrics based on spend vs votes received but this would seem a red herring. The spend after all is in pursuit of a (not primarily) financial goal. This opens the question of what is this spend for, and can that goal be measured by non-financial metrics.
Above the winning of the presidency, campaigning serves the purpose of building or maintaining party brand equity, raising potential future candidate profiles and positioning each party for further contests in mid-term and state level elections. These can be measured through what are essentially marketing questions. Have you heard of candidate John Kasich? Would you vote for a generic Republican candidate over a Democrat? Is this your first time voting Republican?
Or a pertinent question in this election, is brand loyalty more important than having a quality product?
abcnews.go.com. (2016). Hillary Clinton Slated to Spend 53 Times as Much as Donald Trump on Florida TV Ads. [online] Available at: http://abcnews.go.com/Politics/hillary-clinton-slated-spend-53-times-donald-trump/story?id=42230361. %5BAccessed 02 Oct. 2016]
bloomberg.com. (2016). Tracking the 2016 Presidential Money Race. [online] Available at: http://www.bloomberg.com/politics/graphics/2016-presidential-campaign-fundraising/. %5BAccessed 02 Oct. 2016]
investopedia.com. (2016). How Much Will it Cost to Become President In 2016? [online] Available at: http://www.investopedia.com/articles/personal-finance/111815/how-much-will-it-cost-become-president-2016.asp. %5BAccessed 02 Oct. 2016]
NYTimes.com. (2016). $2 Billion Worth of Free Media for Donald Trump. [online] Available at: http://www.nytimes.com/2016/03/16/upshot/measuring-donald-trumps-mammoth-advantage-in-free-media.html?_r=0. %5BAccessed 02 Oct. 2016]
scripted.com. (2016). Donald Trump’s Marketing Strategy. [online] Available at: https://www.scripted.com/content-marketing-2/donald-trump-marketing-strategy. %5BAccessed 02 Oct. 2016]
thegatewaypundit.com. (2016). HISTORY! Trump Shatters Republican Primary Vote Record by 1.4 Million Votes. [online] Available at: http://www.thegatewaypundit.com/2016/06/trump-trumps-wins-historic-race-record-fashion/. %5BAccessed 02 Oct. 2016]