If you’re like me, you probably spent much of your spare time last year following the presidential election. Digital media rose to be front and center in politics, and given President-elect Trump’s preference for Twitter as a means of communicating with the American people, digital is here to stay in the political realm.
As a matter of fact, digital media spending for 2016 political campaigns was projected to top $1 billion, contributing 9.8 percent of media spend. Comparatively, digital spending during the last presidential election season in 2012 was $160 million. We all know digital has been on the rise for years, but what can marketers learn from a political campaign season that divided so many people, and what can our industry expect as a result of the election?
As an outside observer, the Republicans’ and Democrats’ digital strategies seemed to be entirely opposite. The Democrats were traditional: They created lists of known Democrats and tried to reach them via any means possible. There was a big push to win over Bernie Sanders’ voters, but the strategy was very tactical: “Don’t go for big messages, just get the vote out.”
Meanwhile, the Republicans relied much more heavily on social media and focused on big, over-the-top outreach without sweating the details about getting out the vote as much as the Democrats did. The theory appeared to be: Rile up the ranks, give them plenty to share and be horrified about, which would, in turn, persuade people to vote.
Using a vast email database and micro-targeting, along with look-alike targeting, the Trump team was able to speak to niche issues that helped the vote. That’s not to say that more traditional methods weren’t used, but Trump clearly outdid Clinton on social media — much to the horror of die-hard Democrats who were stuck complaining about the veracity of statements rather than creating their own momentum.
The rise of fake news
Akin to the growth of digital spending was the rise of fake news and advertising. People are a dichotomy: We are both incredibly naive and sophisticated when it comes to fake news and advertising.
On the one hand, people are easily duped into sharing an outrageous “fact” across social media given to them by a friend. And the “facts” that don’t affect someone’s day-to-day life are embraced with the fervor of religion: I believe and I won’t allow your words to affect my belief. Witness the people who don’t believe in global warming as an example of this.
On the other hand, the very same people are wary of advertising, which to many is just another version of “fake news.” They feel companies and governments are not to be trusted, and their neighbor, “Mike” or “Mary,” will better inform them.
The Interactive Advertising Bureau put out a report that showed just how much influence social media had on people during the election cycle. It found that 28 percent of registered voters used social media to inform themselves about candidates and that 31 percent of them read, liked and shared political articles posted by their friends. The question is, were those posts from credible sources?
In a recent Wall Street Journal article, a Clinton campaign official, referring to political digital strategy, stated that “targeting can’t replace a candidate’s message and isn’t as powerful as conversations with friends and neighbors.” Well, based on the presidential result, I’d say that targeting is highly effective, especially when shared with friends and neighbors — real or digital.
Looking ahead to the Trump era, there are issues we should expect, such as a continued rise in content to replace ads.
I recently met with the CEO of a large shoe retailer who said something that resonated with me. To paraphrase, he said, “If I show content that has Kanye West in a pair of our sneakers, along with a link to buy the sneakers, that’s going to be much more successful than an ad explaining why that sneaker is great.” He was referring to the rise of sneaker culture and how stars can have a big impact.
But the flip side is that people believe what they perceive to be “authentic.” We are living in a society where perceived authenticity holds greater weight over right or wrong. Although Google is only a voice command away, we are increasingly less likely to check the veracity of someone who we believe is telling the truth.
Moreover, we are likely to continue believing our friends even after hearing a contradictory truth from someone we don’t know.
The impact for marketers is to double down on content marketing and endorsements and to move away from fact-based advertising. Consumers don’t want to be told that this product is the best; they want to know that their friend or hero is using the product and loves it.
This doesn’t mean marketing won’t be driven by numbers, machine learning and software, because it certainly will. But it does mean that when your AI (artificial intelligence) is deciding what message to show to the next prospect, it’s more likely to choose branded content than an ad.
The end of net neutrality
In terms of policy that will affect our industry, I am expecting the death of net neutrality, which is a very big deal and greatly concerns me. The arguments will be about the government getting out of the way of business: if an ISP (Internet Service Provider) like Comcast, Time Warner or AT&T invests in infrastructure, shouldn’t they be allowed to sell it any way they can?
The other side says: If you allow an ISP to charge a toll to content providers, that immediately helps big companies (who can afford to pay) to the detriment of small companies (who can’t). On the other hand, if you go all the way to the extreme, then you effectively enable an ISP to decide what content to serve on their network, which sounds a lot to me like trading free speech in exchange for corporate profits. To me, the obvious answer is clear, but I fear I’ll be on the wrong side of history.
I also expect it is unlikely that a Trump administration will write any new laws about privacy; the US is already the Wild West when it comes to privacy regulation (at least compared to Europe), and Republicans have pledged to be business-friendly.
On the flip side, this means that the courts are likely to be the place where privacy laws are played out. This means if you are thinking about the financial cost of pushing the limits of consumer privacy, you should think about what a jury of your peers will think of your behavior and whether or not you caused harm.
In practice, I suspect this will mean that when it comes to tracking non-financial and non-health-related purchase behavior on the internet, the world will be wide open. It’s hard for a claimant to say they’ve suffered financial harm if an advertising or marketing company knows they’ve bought three pairs of shoes and a shirt and went out to dinner three times last week.
However, if you are tracking personal financial information or health-related data, then you can get into big trouble. I expect companies will push the envelope on one of these areas and get burned.
Depending on which candidate you voted for, you are either thrilled or devastated. No matter which side you were on, we have a conclusion to the story. We as marketers have the ability to persuade massive numbers of people to take action. This is a great responsibility, and as such, we need to take care to ensure that our consumers receive truthful messages and are protected to the best of our ability — with or without legislation.
This is my commitment to my business — because after all the political talk of trust, and lack thereof, I want to be known as the person whose opinion you trust.
Some opinions expressed in this article may be those of a guest author and not necessarily Marketing Land. Staff authors are listed here.
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