Canada has just come out of the longest election we have had in two centuries and our friends to the South are just warming up for a year of debates and polls before voting next November. If the onslaught of political ads and speeches that has inundated all forms of communication channels has proven anything, it’s that marketing is a fundamental piece of the puzzle to running a successful political campaign, and it might not have always been that way.
Campaigning has always been a tedious activity. In the pre-Internet era, it mostly centered around canvassing local neighbourhoods, with a high chance of getting a door slammed in your face. Politicians took public debates and forums more seriously, as all coverage was needed to introduce the candidates to the public. Newspapers and media outlets were the campaign managers’ best friends, with the politicians making extra efforts to sit down for interviews with as many interviewers and outlets as possible.
Most of this still ring true with campaigning today – however, there is one noticeable difference that has altered the way that everything is done – the Internet, and mostly social media.
The Importance of the Political Selfie
In a decade, the Internet and social media have changed the way we do nearly everything, and political campaigns are not exempt to this monster change. Imagine if Richard Nixon had to deal with social media in the 1970s – would it have made him seem more personable to the masses? (Side note, for those who don’t know, Nixon was so unlikable that even he was aware that he had no personality.)
The Internet is playing to politicians strengths, as it allows them to portray themselves as “the common man”, which is something that white, privileged men often have a hard time doing. But it can also be a candidate’s foe, as it makes it harder for their lies to be truly forgotten. In a day where images of Justin Timberlake and Britney Spears in matching denim suits is readily available in one quick Google Search, no politician can bury every white lie or stupid thing that they have ever done to garner more votes. The Internet is making them more accountable, and it’s something that politicians everywhere have to adjust to.
While the Internet is making it easier to hold politicians accountable, it is also devaluing some of the political messages. Social media has allowed politicians to speak directly to their supporters, and given them multiple platforms to do it on, however the downside to it is that it lacks authenticity. Before the Internet, it was easier for the politicians to have a stance and articulate it well through the minimal communication channels. There was less chance of diluting the message over the various social media platforms and traditional communication methods and there was less noise surrounding it. The Internet has made it easier for opponents and other candidates to skew others’ political messaging, The tradeoff of being able to reach a broader audience is the increased chance that the marketing message may be skewed along the way.
Big Ideas, Bigger Personalities
The increase in publicity of today’s politicans has also brought them up to celebrity status. Everyone from German Chancellor Angela Merkle to Hilary Clinton and Doug Ford have been mocked on Saturday Night Live – which is almost a compliment and helps increase their visibility to the public. After Ford admitted his affinity for crack-cocaine in 2013, he gave one late night interview to Jimmy Kimmel, even though all of the big names asked for one. And his appearance gave a boost to the show’s ratings and to Ford’s reputation. Politicans have garnered a celebrity status, and sometimes campaign like they’re at a press junket, promoting their latest antics or position on foreign affairs. They use the same tactics that Matt Damon does to get you to see his next spy movie, because it will be completely “different” than the last four.
The Internet has dramatically changed how to market a political campaign, both in how to communicate the message and how the public wants to hear it. Debates hold less weight where a tell-all interview with Diane Sawyer holds more. It’s not better or worse, it’s just a new battlefield to master, and they are getting better at it with every try. For proof, look at Donald Trump’s Twitter account or Hilary Clinton’s Instagram, which are both trying to do the same thing – appeal to more people – even though they use very different language and tactics.
Header Photo: Goranmx via Pixabay.com
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