Just imagine a marketing budget on two brands exceeding Rs. 5 billion aimed at getting one brand into the most powerful seat in Sri Lanka. The only thought that will come into a marketer’s mind will be that the most cutting-edge strategies will come into play in the near future.
As a professional marketer, in my view, given the strengths of the two brands at play, we as consumers will see how the best strategies that one can think of will be focused on us to move consumer behaviour.
The key issue will be, what happens to traditional organisations like soap, toothpaste and mosquito coils or for that matter Christmas-related brands that want to get a share of voice? It will be almost impossible.
Obama – Brilliant marketer though delivery issues
Though President Obama has miserably failed in terms of delivery, especially in the second term, mainly due to external reasons, from strictly marketing perspectives I would rate his presidential campaign as one of the best the world has seen in line with the Modi marketing blitz we saw in the early part of 2014.
Marketing at its best
I have realised that rather than just watching things unfold, one must get involved on what’s happening around the world so that we live a life of ‘learning’ rather than just standing still, which does not get us very far in a day and age where daily there is something new coming up globally on the communication and technology front.
I am not sure if this insight is right, but with five billion focused on 100 days of exposure, simple arithmetic says that it is almost Rs. 50 million a day, which is a lot of money in the world of marketing, for above and below the line activity.
Let me capture the top nine marketing pickups for Sri Lanka’s presidential campaign 2015:
Obama pick-up 1: Talk straight
The world saw how Obama elections focused on guerrilla marketing tactics just to get voter share of mind. But we noticed that the straight-talking candidate got a higher share of voice on the media and access to people’s minds than those who dabbled in personifying the personality of a candidate.
The only issue in this strategy is that people will like you or dislike you. But these are the cutting-edge decisions that made brand Obama cut through the clutter in the last few days that went on to secure a 50% share in the market place to competitor Romney 48.1%. It could not have got closer than this.
Let’s see how the Sri Lankan landscape emerges on the political front in the next couple of months, but history has revealed that when some local brands started attacking competitors on the melamine issue, the loser in the long-term was the brand that focused on negativity rather than playing up the strengths on own brand.
Obama pick-up 2: Be there on the field
Whilst billions of dollars were spent on media, the cutting-edge was the ground-end consumer engagements that both brands indulged in. Especially the last few days in the swing states the brands outsmarted each other in the itinerary, the objective being to have the last word in people’s minds to one’s brand. If we do a deep dive, Obama had more field officers than Romney, which tells you how important distribution is in the overall game of marketing.
Based on my experience, Sri Lanka is essentially a distribution game. The brand that has a stronger distribution in depth and width together with a better rapport with the average voter will have the edge on 8 January 2015. Arrogance and fat advertising budgets is a sure recipe for failure; this has been the take from consumer brand marketers.
Obama pick-up 3: Importance of PACE
Tough to accept but everything is immediate and everything is viral now. When Romney made a slip by saying that majority of Americans live off the state, it just went viral and no PR agency could do damage control. Obama’s campaign on the other hand had its fair share of mistakes but when it mattered it sure used PACE to his advantage. The tweet he sent as soon as he gave his acceptance speech, the victory tweet “Four more years,” by President Obama was shared 400,000 times within a few hours.
The implication to Sri Lanka is that we have to accept that every consumer is a journalist now. If a candidate messes up a voter engagement even in the outskirts or via an affiliate to one’s party, the next day it is viral. We don’t have to go very far; look what happened to the Maliban White Cream Puff communiqué. It was ordered off only by viral media.
Obama pick-up 4: TV ads yet work
Whilst there is a major hype on viral media that includes search engines, MySpace, FB, Twitter and Instagram just to name a few, the thing that really made a impact on behaviour in the Obama campaign was the clips on YouTube. The lesson is that it sure has an impact to brand value building and appealing to the emotions of a consumer. Hulu, a tracking company, recently announced that online video spending was up 700% in the most recent US elections.
I guess the lesson is clear. Whilst viral media can keep brand salience and top-of-the-mind recall, real brand building is via traditional TV advertising. This is where values of a brand get rubbed off on a potential consumer, which leads to the brand value picking up. This cements the bond between a consumer and brand. If there is true media freedom, I would strongly follow whose GRPs were better and may be focus on TRPs too, which focuses on the 15 million voters’ rating.
Obama pick-up 5: Competitor attacks
The negative advertising by Obama and Romney was at its peak this time around. In the last four months of the campaign, negativity advertising accounted for 63.1% of the monies spent. Latest research coming out states that it really turned voters away from a candidate rather than moving them closer; the logic is that a consumer of today in more informed and likes a two-sided message but not to be influenced to take a decision. Some even stayed away from voting.
With the developments last week in Sri Lanka, I guess negative advertising will be the order of the day. Given the culture in Sri Lanka, sometimes people like negativity but in terms of moving the voter, we will have to see how things pan out.
Obama pick-up 6: Testing
This is something really strange but the Obama team used to video every single campaign meeting and every time there was a strong uproar for a comment that President Obama made, they turned this into an advertising campaign. The testing ground was the campaign speech.
This is not a mind-blowing idea as many companies use this technique. But let’s see if this same strategy is used in the campaign trail. With a 50 million a day marketing budget, anything is possible.
Obama pick-up 7: Niches
I guess the campaign planners in the US had no options but to focus on the niche markets of Afro Americans, Latinos, gays, youth and women who were termed minorities. Whilst the age-old strategy when marketing a mass marketing brand is to focus on the bigger number and stay consistent with them, brand Obama beautifully architectured the niches.
He changed his product to cater to niches. For instance, immigrants supported Obama with a block vote of 62% from Hispanics given that he changed the Immigration Bill. He got the Ohio vote mainly by supporting the automobile rescue package.
The candidate who does this will win on 8 January. The focus will be the age group below 30 years. This voter looks at life very differently. They are not scared to voice their opinion. They are more conscious of greening and environmentally-friendly activity rather than the above 30 age group. Let’s see how they are targeted in the marketing game.
Obama pick-up 8: Do things
If one analyses the Obama campaign, the President always asked the voters to do things. Phone, vote, donate, visit, Tweet or FB something that made the brand a very actionable brand. There was always something happening.
Youngsters between 19-29 years believed in the Obama brand over Romney due to this. They tend to like his personality, which was action centric. This group between 18-29 years is worth 44 million votes and actually tipped the scale on Election Day.
The implication to the Sri Lankan election campaign will be how many will actually be involved in the campaign given the cultural connotation of the voter. Sri Lankans are silent but take hard decisions. It will be interesting to see north and east voter behaviour.
Obama pick-up 9: God
Let’s accept it; hurricane Sandy swung in brand Obama’s favour. He was able to demonstrate that he could swiftly change strategy if it was required and that is exactly what the President did via regular press updates, visits to disaster zones, correcting the power issues, etc.
I wonder how God will intervene in the 2015 elections; in other words, what external pressures can happen to drive voter behaviour. I guess time will tell.
[The author is an award winning marketer and business personality who has a double degree in Marketing and an MBA. He is a Black Belt Karateka and is an alumnus of Harvard University (Boston). Writing is a hobby he pursues. He is one of the most respected thought leaders in Sri Lanka.]