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How can brands get a share of the attention in the run-up to an election?

How can brands get a share of the attention in the run-up to an election?
In light of the snap general election being called last week, Benedict Pringle reveals three tactics that brands can use to take advantage of the UK's current political situation.

If you are a brand that might struggle to authentically associate yourself with the typical cultural ‘tent pole’ moments in the second quarter of the year - such as Easter holidays, cup finals or music festivals - general election 2017 provides the perfect alternative opportunity for a pre-summer communications push.

There are three tactics that brands can use to get involved in an election: newsjacking, polling day-related sales promotions and election equity appropriation.

Newsjacking

The most common tactic used by brands trying to associate themselves with an election is the ‘Newsjack’. A Newsjack refers to the practice of a brand anticipating a story that journalists will already be writing and creating a piece of content that will fit seamlessly into the story.

The run-up to election day will always see vast numbers of articles on the theme of “Britain is going election-crazy”; these stories look at the unusual, extreme and hilarious things that people, neighbourhoods and brands are doing to celebrate the festival of democracy that is polling day.  

It’s the one time of year where an Italian restaurant has a chance of generating earned media by emailing a picture editor a photo of a pizza that’s looks like a politician.

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A Newsjack tends to generate the most short-lived type of fame, but given the relatively small amount of effort that is required on the part of brands to achieve it, it can often pass the cost-benefit analysis required to run the campaign.

Election-related sales promotions

Similar to a Newsjack, but requiring greater effort, is the election-related sales promotion. A good case study of this sort of activity can be found in 7-Eleven’s 7Election which they ran during the 2016 US Presidential election. 

The promotion encouraged customers to order an XL Stay-Hot drink by giving them a choice between a red and blue cup (to represent Trump or Clinton). These were then tallied from 7-Elevens throughout the country and used to predict the result of the election.

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The ambition behind a sales promotion like this is simply to increase the relevance of a product during this highly debated period, and (hopefully) give a spike to trade.

However, election-related sales promotions rarely have any effect on market share, as they tend to bring in people who were already in the market for a product and any spike begins to decay when the polls close and the time-limited promotion concludes.

Build brand value by appropriating equity from the election

The election-related activity that will arguably do most for a brand’s longer term market share is the sort which is targeted at the majority of the population (buyers and non-buyers alike), using mass media, which conveys a message in an emotional way.

This is very hard to do around an election. Emotions relating to politics are fairly volatile (to put it lightly) and any brand trying to take advantage of, or capitalise on these feelings, runs the risk of alienating or upsetting large numbers of people.  

However, one brand who has managed to get the sort of activity right is Audi, the automotive manufacturer, who premiered a spot – ‘Duel’ – during the first live televised debate between Clinton and Trump. It showed a man and woman seemingly fighting to the death over something relating to the Presidential election.

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It delivered a message about the desirability of the RS7 in a high-octane, awe-inspiring, adrenaline-pumping way that took emotions the audience would have already been feeling about the election and channelled them into the Audi brand. By hijacking the conversation already happening around the debate, Audi was able to generate earned media without alienating either side.

Got your vote?

Whether you want a quick blast of publicity, a spike in sales or an increase in long-term brand value, there are ways of achieving it around election time. And, given that major elections are as certain to capture the nation’s imagination as much as televised talent shows and musicians playing gigs in muddy fields, it is worth brands thinking about how they could take advantage of the fact that the country is heading to the polls.

Benedict Pringle is the founder of politicaladvertising.co.uk.

Last updated 25/04/2017

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