I’ve complained before about crappy campaign web sites, but this year I think election marketing in general sucks, from robocalls to direct mail to those darned web sites. And I’m not the only one: Marketing guru Seth Godin offers marketing lessons from the U.S. elections. Today’s election day, so it’s all over. Let’s take a look at what works and what doesn’t.
In Minnesota robo-calls are illegal. Yet that hasn’t stopped two robo-calls from coming through, one from the Campaign for Change-DFL and one from Minnesotan Citizens Concerned for Life. I guess that’s one from each side of the political spectrum, so at least they’re fairly breaking the law.
In response to that anti-robo-call law in Minnesota, the McCain campaign has had real people making those calls and just reading the robo-call script. That’s perfectly legal, but it’s also perfectly insane.
I’ve received two of these calls and both times the caller read the script so fast I could barely understand them. The first time I started laughing and the caller just kept reading faster. The second call came on Sunday and I started laughing and asked if the guy could read it any faster. He laughed, said “You want me to take it up a notch? I’m up for it. Have a good day.” And he hung up. I’m not sure what either of those calls were supposed to accomplish. If you can’t do robo-calls, what’s the point of paying someone to read the same script? It’s a real person, why not have a real conversation with me? A conversation is much more likely to change minds than speed-reading a script.
Last night I spent two hours researching all the local campaigns for things you don’t normally hear about, like Supreme Court, Appeals Court, District Court, etc. As I went farther and farther down the ballot it became increasingly harder to find information. Local voter guides would offer a paragraph from each candidate, but every candidate for Soil & Water Manager says water is important.
The candidates who did have web sites had an appalling hierarchy of information. Their sites were loaded with buzz words and political speak, and rarely did they explain their stance or fully address issues. After growing frustrated with one candidate’s four page web site, I googled Bill Jungbauer only to find that he had a blog. (a blog touting 2010—what has he already conceded the 2008 election?) Why didn’t he link to the blog from his web site?
My favorite was third-party U.S. Senate candidate Dean Barkley who’s been polling in the teens (meaning this isn’t a joke of a campaign). Thanks to the poor design I completely missed the site’s menu and had to download a PDF to see his stance on the issues. Even worse, as a third party candidate he had a prime opportunity to show how he differed from the two mainstream candidates—especially in a bitter race between incumbent Norm Coleman and the outspoken Al Franken. Where was the chart showing how Barkley had a better stance on the issues than his rivals? As a third party candidate those stark differences (hopefully) are what make you stand out. Put them front and center.
Other info on web sites that’s not going to help your cause: Talking about conspiracy theories and including why your spouse and kids think I should vote for you.
No Web Sites
But what’s even worse than poor web sites is no web sites. I couldn’t believe that in the bitter mayoral battle in my town neither candidate had a web site. The city council and soil and water manager candidates also had no web sites. Now I realize those are small time races, but how can you be running a serious campaign and not have some kind of online presence? Even setting up a free blog site and listing your basic qualifications would be better than nothing. Why would you spend money on yard signs that don’t actually communicate any position you stand for when you could spend a couple hours and put up a web site showcasing any number of things?
The other medium that has me scratching my head is direct mail. The other day we received 16 political fliers in the mail. I think we get the most from Senate candidate Al Franken. And he doesn’t just send postcards, he sends these slick, multi-page brochures. The direct mail deluge has been coming from all candidates and all levels.
What confuses me about it is that the copywriting on the direct mail pieces doesn’t tell you anything. It’s always completely biased info with little sense of context or fairness. Candidates continue to throw out claims that have been debunked by fact checking (which is a problem regardless of medium). For the national and state-wide campaigns it’s not as big of a deal because I’ve heard both sides and I know what angle the copy is taking. But for the local races it’s especially frustrating. You can’t sum up every position you take on a 5×8 postcard.
It’d be nice if the campaigns could actually communicate honestly and directly. Stick with one issue on your postcard, and give us some context and balance. And be fair about your opponent’s position.
Earlier this year I talked about how I asked each presidential campaign a question and was then inundated with e-mail (my question was never answered). Since submitting those questions on each campaign’s site on June 23, I’ve received exactly 120 e-mails from Barack Obama and three from John McCain. How’s that for a contrast? And I don’t think it’s a good contrast for either of them.
I’m Done Now
I’d be curious to know if anyone has been convinced by a robo-call or a postcard or an e-mail asking for a donation. Political marketing has certainly come a long way and the major candidates are doing impressive things, but I’m amazed at how ridiculous much of the marketing is. Thankfully it all ends today.