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How a Modern Branding Mindset Could Improve Campaign Spending

As Stephen Colbert and John Stewart have very clearly pointed out, this election is all about money. Their parody of Super PAC-funded negative commercials as a primary campaign strategy makes it evident that the focus is definitely on quantity of contributions, rather than the quality of what comes out of them.

For example, Barack Obama has been trying hard to organize a grassroots donation effort, stating that we need to “neutralize the avalanche of special-interest spending to defeat” him. But is it really about matching Republican contributions? Should it be?

Fun fact: In Mitt Romney’s Super PAC, which has fewer than 200 contributors, the average contribution for his main engine is roughly $150,000. Barack Obama’s average contribution is $50.

The way that the election campaigning is happening right now reminds me of brand marketing in the 90′s. It’s all about throwing down as much money as possible, getting on the airwaves and getting your message out there. For example, 96% of Mitt Romney’s Super PAC spending has been on attack ads.

In other words, they’re stuck in an era when marketing was all bout saying the other guy’s burger is 50% smaller. And those are politicians – many brands have long moved away from that game. With the rise of modern branding, brands have realized that messaging-only approaches just don’t work anymore. No matter what your TV commercials say, if your company has bad customer service, you need to fix the customer service, or else customers empowered by the Internet will destroy your reputation. Instead of relying on empty promises in commercials, brands are restructuring their processes so that they can do things better, and do more for their customers. By spending less on telling the story, they are challenging themselves to be creative about using social media, viral marketing and other techniques to get the word out.

So why is the election still all about TV spending? Instead of trying to rival the scope of Republican attack ads, Obama supporters should think of more creative – and less spendy – ways to make an impact. What if instead of asking for money for campaign materials, they used some of what they have to finance small projects or startups, and then publicized their successes? By pumping that money back into efforts that will help the people whose lives they want to improve, they could send a much larger message than any you might find in a commercial.

Look at Pepsi’s Refresh Project – they managed to create their own version of Kickstarter, just using their Superbowl funding.

Beyond how they spend their money, the viral – and free – territory of social media should actually be making funded marketing less important than ever for campaigns. Reputation spreads faster than ever, which is probably why no amount of campaign money can stop Mitt Romney from getting torched by The Onion.

The bottom line is, if our favorite brands have rethought their spending on messaging, isn’t it time for politicians to do so too?

-Becky Lang

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