The “BuzzFeeding” Of The Election And Why Marketers Should Be Watching
As candidates push out quippy sound bites and ride on the wave of the accompanying media coverage, columnist Rob Rasko explains why marketers should keep an eye on the trend.
During the Interactive Advertising Bureau’s Annual Leadership Meeting last month, David Axelrod, former senior adviser to President Obama, took to the stage to give his predictions on the presidential campaign and talked about the dynamics of both parties.
When analyzing the GOP field, Axelrod pointed out that while the media has continued to focus on the Donald Trump Show, Trump only has 35 percent voter support.
While that may seem like a lot of support in a five (or more) person race, once the campaign is down to two people, it doesn’t necessarily represent a win, a point he repeatedly made on CNN this week.
Trump has run his campaign as well as any master marketer would; he knows his audience and his brand. His audacious, sound bite-style comments have earned him around-the-clock media coverage, for good or for ill.
Conventional wisdom says that all of the noise he is creating is just that — noise that will eventually quiet down, as historically, only the most passionate folks turn out in an election, and new voters who may poll a certain way may not actually vote.
Short And Snippy Is The Name Of The Game
During this election, more than any other, candidates have relied on quippy sound bites to carry their battle cries. Coinciding with the rise in popularity of “listicles” and memes, there is a flood of political misinformation floating around social media and online, designed to sway public interest. Think “7 Things Hillary Clinton Has In Common With Your Abuela.”
What should marketers be watching for as they learn how to leverage these concepts in their branding?
Today, it seems tweetability trumps credibility. Candidates speak in easy-to-regurgitate sound bites rather than expounding at length on issues. To make matters worse, candidates are capitalizing on the quick-and-dirty nature of the current landscape, and many voters will never actually know whether or not these statements are true.
Marketers must keep an eye on these results. They are a manifestation of a potential new reality where attention is shorter and time to capture attention is at a premium. What does the future hold as a result of the 140-character post or the five-second, skippable video ad?
How will we know if sound bites are actually affecting the election? The same way brands determine if their tweets during the Super Bowl drive KPIs: turnout — turnout at the stores, a spike in web or search traffic, turnout at the polls.
At the end of the day, perhaps the size of a message doesn’t matter unless it drives some action.
If turnout acts as the barometer for this change, then so far, based on the roughly 50-percent increase in voter turnout at the Iowa caucuses on February 1, the shorter messages are resonating. If the sound bites continue to drive engagement with voters, we will know, because the turnout will continue to rise.
This begs the question: If Axelrod represents the establishment, and we’re in a sound bite election, will folks like him also resort to using sound bites to drive strategy? Will the political establishment adjust their messages to fit the current sound bite trend of policy positions being 140 or fewer characters?
Or will they stick to their tried-and-true models, wade through the digital noise and endure until two candidates are left to hash out the granular details? Do things get worse, or do they get better?
How Low Can We Go?
People who used to say, “I don’t follow politics” are now inundated with political commentary from friends and family and feel compelled to participate in the discussion despite their inherent lack of interest or understanding.
Whether it is “#FOMO” (fear of missing out) or not wanting to be perceived as uninformed, political discourse now takes place in 140-character bursts, 24/7/365, rather than over the dinner table after the nightly news.
Let’s have a little fun by looking at some of the campaigns’ more colorful sound bites.
Bernie Sanders’ health care proposal has been distilled down to “Medicare For All,” despite being five pages and 1,715 words long. Similarly, he has tweeted his position on student debt.
You have families out there paying 6, 8, 10 percent on student debt but you can refinance your homes at 3 percent. What sense is that?
— Bernie Sanders (@SenSanders) December 26, 2015
Or how about when Donald Trump said this about ISIS at a Fort Dodge, Iowa, rally: “I would bomb the sh– out of them. I would just bomb those suckers.” So did his opponent, Ted Cruz, who promised to “carpet bomb them into oblivion,” according the The Washington Post.
While “Medicare for all” and “bomb ISIS” are tweetable phrases that get a rise out of each candidate’s audience, neither presents a fully developed point of view. Is this a macro-trend that’s indicative of our broader mindset?
Are the trends we find in digital an accurate representation of a nation hooked on low-quality, fast food-style news? And should all brands adjust their marketing strategies accordingly to meet this trend?
By closely watching the outcome of the election — and whether soundbites are successful in the long run — we’ll know whether or not we need to take heed.
If we think about all of this in context, 2008 was about targeting, fundraising and access to political positioning, as clearly supported by data reported by Forbes guest contributor Irfon Watkins. In 2008, the Obama campaign “spent an unprecedented 10% of his paid media budget on digital advertising.” The article goes on to report that “Obama upped that percentage to 15% in 2012 when he clinched his second term in office.”
If 2008 was the year of targeting, 2016 is the year of the soundbite. During his speech, Axelrod pointed out that one thing is certain: the level of targeting and the specificity of these messages is only going to increase.
Mark Skidmore, a partner at Bully Pulpit Interactive, agreed. “We have more accurate ways not only to identify persuadable voters, but also to reach them across more screens,” he told me. “Plus, we have better tools to accurately and quickly measure the impact of persuasion advertising.”
“The shift of consumers to digital devices redefines the way campaigns and brands craft messaging and deliver ideas,” Skidmore added. “A minute is now considered a long ad format. Typically, we may only get 5 or 15 seconds at a time to spend with a voter and try to help change their mind.”
This year’s GOP leader, our friend The Donald, has spent next to nothing on advertising and has managed to dominate the political conversation for months with bold sound bites that continue to drum up public interest.
In the end, the real question is whether the political establishment is correct and voters will increase their understanding of the issues over the next few months, or will the sound bite win, drive record turnouts and own the election?
If conventional wisdom holds true, Americans will look for substance, and the sound bite will go the way of Howard Dean and possibly take someone like a Donald Trump with it.