Vote.org tries static billboards, print ads in college papers and SMS to reach the unreachable
The non-partisan organization is testing some new tactics this year to reach some of the most connected people on earth.
How do you reach a demographic that doesn’t watch cable TV, blocks online ads and isn’t too keen on email, for a product that has a hard launch date?
That, essentially, is the marketing challenge faced by Vote.org, a non-profit and non-partisan organization. It is trying to reach young voters, such as students, people of color and voters who voted for the first time in the last presidential election, all toward the “product launch” date of the mid-term US election on November 6.
Why these groups? The first two categories tend to undervote in proportion to their population, but the latter category, Vote.org COO Raven Brooks told me, is a focus because his organization is trying to encourage a habit of voting. If they voted in 2016 and again in these mid-terms, he said, they are 55 percent more likely to vote again in later elections.
But these voters and potential voters are particularly difficult to reach with marketing messages designed to encourage the free activities of registering and voting.
For instance, he noted, sixty-nine percent of students block ads online, and they are among the least likely to watch cable TV.
Billboards and print ads. So, Vote.org created a multi-level campaign that tried to get around these limitations, the necessity of which is all the more remarkable considering that the targeted groups are among the most technically literate and connected in the history of the world.
For the first time, it is advertising through Flytedesk, a campus advertising network. Vote.org is running 1,200 print ads in the same number of college newspapers at higher education institutions, but the emphasis is on community and smaller colleges attended by ten million students.
The group is also using 2,500 billboards in nine states and seven metropolitan areas, mostly the old fashioned static kinds that have been around since the days of the students’ grandparents, as well as some digital incarnations on highways and at bus stops.
And a massive SMS effort. While young people are notoriously difficult to reach via email, they do text. So, Vote.org is now testing a massive SMS program in nearly three dozen states.
The texting is conducted in a peer-to-peer effort, where Vote.org texts to nine million voters via the Hustle app. While mass automated texting is illegal, Brooks noted that the law allows texting by a human to an unknown human, if done occasionally and not in an unrelenting wave.
So, the Vote.org workers text up to three voting reminders, spaced out over three days, to the voters on its lists. If they respond, the group has canned responses to questions that can send back.
Additionally, the organization also emails its list of over four million, and it does some direct snailmail.
Why this matters to marketers. For political marketers, more active voters should mean more opportunities to make their case.
But, for other kinds of marketers, Vote.org’s challenge is not unlike the general challenge of reaching young people and/or minorities. New approaches through new channels can attract more attention than marketing through the same channels, which can become simply become part of the background noise.
The results of these new efforts to reach the unreachable won’t be known until after the election, Brooks said. But, if it works, marketers will have conquered another Everest.