Political Marketing: Honest F.U.D. Overcame Brand and Hyperbole

Saratoga Springs

Saratoga Springs

For the first time in my career, I used F.U.D. (Fear/Uncertainty/Doubt & Dread) marketing for a local election that was very important to my small town of Saratoga Springs, NY.

Last week, I learned that we had won big, taking 23 of 25 voting districts. (Our new online SaratogaWire.com had this short article.)

I want to pass on a few marketing lessons I learned from this experience while they’re fresh. Perhaps the most obvious is that core marketing strategies and skills are transferable, even to politics.

Here’s a little background.

The “for change” group is called Saratoga Citizen. Nice name. They promised Faster/Cheaper/Better using a core rationale that everyone is using the City Manager form of government, so it must be better.

Our campaign to retain our Commission form of government, by a group called SUCCESS, used honest Fear/Uncertainty/Doubt & Dread messaging emphasizing the danger of tinkering with our town’s success.

Saratoga Springs truly is the envy of Upstate New York. We’re one of the few cities north of NYC doing well. Our city government has been able to reduce costs, retain most services and hold down taxes.

I am writing about local politics in a national blog because it taught me lessons that I believe could be valuable to others.

First, if only a few perceive a problem, it’s very difficult to generate change. This is as true making a cultural change in a company as it is a constitutional change for a city.

Second, you can win even if you start late and have fewer resources.

  • Our opponents worked very hard for three years while our campaign lasted 10 weeks.
  • While I estimate that we were outspent by at least 50%, I believe that we:
    • Targeted our spending better,
    • Had stronger messages,
    • Developed better creative execution, and
    • Used a smarter media plan.
      • Want a full-page adv, buy a quarter page.
      • Want a TV campaign, go with a little radio.
      • Want to start advertising 2 months in advance, buy only the critical last week before the vote.

Third, the weaker brand can win. Their “city manager” brand delivered a powerful message: Moving to a “Professional” manager sounded modern and efficient. The Commission system is 97 years old and only used in a few towns.

Fourth, even strong brands can be assailed by well-targeted messages. We believed and had to communicate that:

  • The recommended change was dangerous, at best making us like other less successful cities;
  • Saratoga works, and therefore the form of government must work; and
  • Most importantly, our message was specific to Saratoga, rather than generic.

Fifth, details count, even if only to a few key people. While they hammered the word professional, their document was flawed. A small group of people studying the details found that the city would be in danger of being unable to deliver services as well/as cheaply. This analysis caused some of our most respected citizens in the last week to communicate that they did not support the change.

Sixth, believability and credibility are critical. From a marketing point of view, each side has pointed out weaknesses and supposed inaccuracies in the other’s materials and statements.

The leader of the change movement worked very hard. But he also had championed a completely different change only six years ago and people asked: What does he really think is best for our city? This was a fatal flaw for many voters.

Seventh, political advertising is expensive. You might not know that political advertising is at full-rate card. At least this pricing both helps our local media, especially our daily paper, whose parent seems to go bankrupt almost yearly, and reduces the absolute number of political advs, which I think benefits all of us.

Vote No Sticker

“Vote No” Sticker

Eighth, you can have a great deal of fun finding different effective tools.

  • I got a big charge out of being the first campaign to use blow-on 3”x3” glossy stickers. I wonder what the editor thought when she saw our bright red Vote No sticker literally on top of the 4-column headline for the last major news story before the election.
  • I liked finding a way to print our handouts at less than 25% of the first quote I received.
  • It was fun to find two online approaches that were new, at least locally.
  • It wasn’t so much fun walking for hours leaving literature, but this is a critical way to bring our message directly to potential voters.
  • Once again, I found that nothing is more important than personal contact and conversation.

Regardless, I never came to appreciate political yard signs, and I’m not looking forward to taking them down.

If you find a politician or proposition you believe in, use your marketing capabilities to help your cause. If you’re not passionate about the person or proposition, however, do not sign on – it’s emotionally exhausting.

Author:

Richard Sellers

Website: http://www.MENGonline.com Richard is chairman emeritus of the nearly 2,000 member Marketing Executives Networking Group, founder of the Demand Marketing consulting firm, and former Sr. VP of Marketing for three multi-billion dollar companies: CEC, WLP, and Service Merchandise. His early career was at GE, P&G, Playtex, and the Marketing Corporation of America. You can follow his communications about marketing, social media, and careers on Twitter at @Sellers_Richard.