The power of marketing in politics

Marketing can have a significant impact on how a political candidate and party is perceived pre- and post-election, particularly with the influence of digital media and the way people now consume information.

Solid policies form the basis of a successful political campaign—yet, as time goes by, we are continuing to see campaigns that focus heavily on marketing. Parties will now go to further lengths to research and understand their audience and the competition, and then convert that insight into votes. This is largely due to the fact that modern political parties understand the importance of a finely-tuned marketing strategy in winning an election.

How important is marketing in politics?

Once ideology-driven, political discourse is now very much consumption-driven and can be swayed by a number of variables. With this in mind, what does the average political marketing campaign look like?

In the past, we have seen a focus on the 'real', where political figures are presented as people, just like you and I—with families, stories to tell and struggles to reveal. They care deeply about their country and will provide solutions to economic and social problems. This approach, one that highlights a candidate’s strengths and weaknesses as real, has been an effective method of marketing.

The best and most successful political marketing campaigns truly understand the needs of the voter. Take Barack Obama’s 2008 Hope and Change campaign as an example. The success of this campaign demonstrated a superior understanding of what voters were yearning for and involved not just a list of policies, but extensive research, planning, insightful strategy and a focus on content that could be shared online.

The sharing of digital content through social channels broadens a candidate’s reach and audience, enabling their message to be made more available than ever before. The aim here is to create content that is both pushed to people (who then share it with others) and made available so that people find it on their own. When marketing strategies are conceived and executed according to plan, the result is often more votes.

Marketing in Australian politics

Much of this rhetoric is also prevalent in Australian politics, where parties commonly target voters who have the largest influence and, quite often, the swinging middle. The Australian Labor Party (ALP)’s It’s Time federal campaign in 1972—remembered mostly for its celebrity-driven television advertisement—is an early example of how marketing was used successfully to gain political power. However, it was not until the mid-2000s where more sophisticated campaigns from a marketing perspective were designed and developed in Australia.

Rising from the ranks of the ALP came the much-popularised Kevin 07 campaign. From a careful candidate selection and contemporary communications strategy to clever policy design, the Labor party was able to utilise digital media, strong branding and messaging to take power, with Kevin Rudd as party leader.

Ironically, Rudd’s demise in 2010 was heavily accredited to the effectiveness of another large-scale marketing campaign, spearheaded by bodies within the mining industry, as well as the Liberal Party’s Kevin O’Lemon video.

Clinton vs. Trump: an epic marketing battle

In the US, we are currently seeing the ultimate marketing battle taking place between presidential candidates Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump. Both have identified and understand their supporter base, and have been able to strategically target their marketing to their preferred audience. They also both have a high level of existing ‘brand’ recognition and popularity.

It seems, however, that Trump’s broader messaging is currently dominating. Make America Great Again has gained momentum and pulls at the heartstrings of a large portion of the American population, who believe that their country’s influence on a domestic and international front has fallen by the wayside.

This message is simple and easy to digest, while ambiguous enough to have universal appeal—voters can read into it however they want. The strength of this marketing message undoubtedly played a role in how Trump rose from a party outsider with no political experience to the Republican presidential candidate.

On the contrary, Clinton’s strength lies in her long-standing position in politics and a connection to the segment voters: African-American, Hispanic, LGBTI and female. She’s also taken a celebrity approach as well, with recent appearances and speeches at political rallies from several well-known actors, musicians, writers and sports stars. The aforementioned segments just so happen to be Trump’s weakness, making this presidential battle all the more intriguing. What will prove rewarding for whoever wins the presidency in November is the ability to harness the media, particularly online, and use it their advantage.

Marketing powerful messages through strategy

Marketing in politics is becoming ever more powerful, yet parties don’t necessarily have to spend more to make it work. The examples which we have drawn upon support the notion that the size of your audience and the power of your message is driven largely by the quality of your marketing strategy. Not only can marketing sway an election, it can win an election.

You can gain the skills required to develop your own persuasive marketing campaign with RMIT’s online Master of Marketing. With the flexible study approach, you’ll also be able to implement strategies to your work, immediately. Learn more about our online study experience by getting in touch with a Student Enrolment Advisor on 1300 701 171.