Losing In a Mudslide: Political Advertising & the “Relationship Era”

Republicans’ body language – including political history & astonishing gaffes – belied the claims.

Texas Insider Report: AUSTIN, Texas – What the GOP proved, and what all marketers (political and otherwise,) must at long last internalize, is that you can’t advertise yourself out of a bad relationship. The prosecution rests … We are now and forevermore in the “Relationship Era”.  

For the past nine months, advertising intruded, advertising thundered, advertising invented, advertising lied, advertising has smeared, pleaded and metastasized.

It’s impossible to reach out to Latinos when you first ask them to provide their documents. And, it’s hard to persuade Ohio autoworkers that you are a jobs creator, when you agitated to bankrupt Detroit.

There is no evidence, based on the 2012 Election’s results, however, that advertising influenced a blessed thing. Persuade? Yes, particularly in the so-called battleground states such as Ohio, Virginia, Florida and Colorado. It persuaded people to tune out advertising. Not a hard deal to close, that.

Let’s look at the impact of the $408 million of superPAC money spent on behalf of Gov. Romney and other Republican candidates, according to the final tabulations of the Sunlight Foundation.

Remember how the Citizens United ruling by the Supreme Court (the one that called political spending protected speech) was going to place our fate in the hands of corporations and other special interests?

Well, not so far. They foolishly spent the money on attack ads.

The Romney-affiliated Restore Our Future Inc. alone spent $143 million. GOP guru Karl Rove’s American Crossroads, $105 million. Meanwhile, superPACS affiliated with the Democrats, chiefly Priorities USA Action, spent a combined $196 million.

Rove’s superPACS poured cash not only into the failed Romney candidacy, but eight Senate races. Six out of eight of those seats went to Democrats. In all, the Dems gained a net two Senate seats and most likely seven in the House. Crossroads, indeed.

For some years now, many industry experts have argued that advertising is-was losing its primacy in marketing. This is for a host of reasons, almost all of them arising from digital revolution.

In dozens of articles, in hundreds of industry conferences held around the globe and more, the loss of reach, the loss of attention and above all the loss of trust converging to undermine paid messaging has been discussed. It should now be blindingly obvious to every marketer, and to more evolved bipeds, that nothing that comes out of the mouth of a brand or any other institution has remotely the influence of what comes from the mouths of 7 billion bystanders freely trading opinions online.

Confirmation of this came a few weeks ago on November 6th, and you probably noticed, because it was in all the papers. The real crossroads here was the demographic reality of 2012 America.

The GOP tried to talk to young voters, women, African-Americans (in one unintentionally hilarious spot, we were reminded that Lincoln was the Republican who ended slavery) and especially Latinos. But those messages didn’t resonate, because the Republican candidates’ body language – including their political histories and astonishing gaffes (“legitimate rape”) – belied the claims.

It now matters very little what you have to say about yourself via slogan, bombastic 30-second spot or pathetically unviral “viral” video. What matters is what the public has to say about you – based on who the public believes you really are.

So, once again, we face the reality that such beliefs do not flow from positioning, or your strategy, or your tagline. It flows from the brand-self you project – by all you do, and don’t do in the actual world.

Or put another way, if people don’t like you, they are no longer eager to do business with you. And in a socially mediated world, not to mention a world of enforced transparency wherein your every move is searchable on Google in perpetuity, you can no longer advertise your way into their wallets, much less their hearts.

The presidential election was an electoral drubbing for the Romney campaign, a strong message (some would logically say a repudiation) for the Republican Party, a humiliation for various super-PACs, and even a lethal blow to the notion of advertising persuasion.

The evidence for these assertions will certainly be cited chapter and verse for years to come.

Whever your line of profession, at least in terms of marketing and advertising, we have just experienced the mother of all case histories.

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