Nonpartisan promotions engage politically invested consumers without alienating ideologues
After what seems like forever, the campaign to pick America’s next president is almost over. While many brand experts find the controversies that can engulf political stances to be marketing poisoning, some cannot ignore the high wattage that comes from election-related media. Here’s a list of how some brands have navigated the political minefield to riff on America’s elections for their own benefit.
Marketing as Policy
Global car rental company Sixt opted to enlist political gadfly Jimmy McMillan (of "The rent is too damn high" fame) to engage in a bit of self-parody. In a spot created in tandem by American agency The Collective @ Liar and German creative outfit thjnk, McMillan alters his trademark platform position in a call for lower rental car prices.
In the two-and-a-half-minute spot, McMillan’s shift in priorities is questioned by political commentator Cenk Uygur, host of online show The Young Turks. This prompts McMillan to break into a showstopping hip-hop number punctuated by the emphatic dance moves of scantily clad social media star The Fat Jew (Josh Ostrovsky).
Timed to drop exactly one week before Election Day, the ad went live on all social channels while McMillan’s theme song is available as a download.
Fake (Ass) Candidates
Fan and lighting company Big Ass Solutions took things a step further than Sixt by announcing its own fake candidate. The company, which is known for provocatively (but accurately) named fans and lights created a campaign for its own “ride-in” presidential candidate, Fanny the Donkey.
The company announced the stunt in a press release sent out at the end of September, which uses language that apes the communications coming from official political operations.
“Like so many other viewers, she watched, but could not muster enthusiasm for either performer. She became convinced that something was missing,” the release said. “Knowing that America is a nation hungry for authenticity, Fanny realized that her time is now. She’s heard people express opinions about the other candidates and feels she represents a true alternative for Americans—a genuine ass.”
Fanny was even on the ground at the final presidential debate between actual candidates Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton on October 19. Big Ass Solutions has created shirts, stickers, hats and official campaign merchandise and is vigorously promoting the social media hashtag #Vote4theAss.
Elections can be divisive affairs, and the animosity that bubbles up during the course of election season has a lasting effect for some. One ad agency decided to do something to fix that. In a departure from the first two entries, New Orleans-based Peter Meyer Advertising is embarking on an earnest and sincere election-related effort called ReUnited States.
The public service campaign conducted its own market research looking at the impact the election has had on the lives of Americans. A survey of 716 American adults, taken during the final week of October, found that 18% of respondents have had their friendships impacted by politics, and 7% have actually lost friends during the presidential campaign.
ReUnited States aims to nudge these affected relationships back together. On its website, visitors are instructed to identify a negative outcome occurring because of political argument, such as being blocked or unfriended on social media. They are then directed to a gallery of reconciliation memes that they can post or e-mail those they had a falling out with.
For more on marketing communications, come see Bob Sevier's session at the 2016 Symposium for the Marketing of Higher Education, "Developing an Integrated Marketing Communications Plan "
Sometimes the best way to cash in on the awareness surrounding a presidential campaign is to ignore the real election altogether. Rather, some companies create campaigns around alternate decisions that are more engaging to many of its targets. Long a favorite tactic of marketers during NCAA’s March Madness Men’s College Basketball Tournament, this strategy has shown up during the presidential election, too.
One example happening this year is the campaign put together by Spanish-language Bollywood television channel Zee Mundo. Starting on Monday, November 7, the channel will air several selections from the catalog of Bollywood legends, and viewers will be able to vote for their favorite actor throughout the week.
Finally, what would a notable national event be without promotional tie-ins? There’s a certain pride in the finality that comes with casting a ballot and collecting an "I Voted" sticker. Because of that, many marketers draw on the satisfaction that comes with performing civic duty in the voting booth by offering promotions to anyone who can prove they voted. Major companies offering consumers free Election Day goodies this year include Krispy Kreme (free donut), 7-11 (free coffee), Zipcar (free car rental), White Castle (free iced tea), Chick-Fil-A (free sandwich) and Gold’s Gym (free workout).
What? In an increasingly fragmented nation, Election Day is one of the few cultural events that engages nearly the whole nation.
So what? Some marketers avoid the politically charged atmosphere surrounding the presidential campaign.
Now what? Riff on the election in a nonpartisan way by creating content that either celebrates democracy or gently mocks the election process.