GOP candidates teach me targeting 101

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Speaking of direct marketing, the messaging from political campaigns in a presidential election year is about as close and uncomfortable as actual hand-to-hand combat.

Imagine being bombarded daily by an endless stream of TV commercials making competing claims — some directly from candidates, others from thinly veiled special interest groups. Imagine your voicemail filled with robocalls, inboxes stuffed with email pitches, mailboxes overflowing with postcards. Imagine street corner intercepts by well-coiffed men and women wearing perma-smiles with hands outstretched in greeting.

Actually, I have to imagine all of those things. You see, I live in New York City. I've never been involved in hand-to-hand combat, and I've never really experienced political marketing on a national scale — because nobody is chasing my vote.

I do vote and overall consider myself to be an informed citizen and active participant in the democratic process. However, when it comes to the presidential campaigns, I'm merely a sideline observer.

I guess I should be grateful for that, given the shameful state of what passes for political discourse right now. There's little evidence that political marketing as it's practiced leads anywhere near to informed decision-making by voters. It's smoke and mirrors marketing at its ugliest, filled with half-truths, unverifiable claims and outright lies.

There are plenty of other ways to stay up-to-date on the race, and I constantly seek them out: TV news coverage, newspaper columns, Twitter feeds, televised debates. When traveling on business, it's surprising to find that the cheesy used-car salesmen have been crowded out of local ad breaks by political commercials.

You can't really blame the campaigns for ignoring me, though. By targeting spending to states and voters most likely to decide the outcome of the race, political marketers are practicing smart marketing. The people who control those budgets believe it's a waste of time and money for a GOP candidate to spend a single dime or second trying to win my vote. They already know which way my state is going, so their focus is elsewhere.

But what if it wasn't really that simple? I may be exactly the East Coast liberal they think I am; however, maybe I'm also an open-minded citizen who has become disillusioned heading into this election year. Maybe I was waiting — even hoping — for an alternative candidate to turn my head. Not one of them even tried.

Contrast that with the car business, where every automaker known to man has been trying to win me over as my current lease is about to expire. They don't assume I'll be loyal to my current choice, and are doing all they can to change my mind.

To find out anything about the current crop of Oval Office wannabes, I need to go in search of the information myself. For a view unfiltered by the media, candidates' websites would be a natural stop, but those are dominated by requests for cash rather than information on issues or clear explanation of stances. “Please make a donation,” they plead, without ever saying why.

I'm not qualified to discuss in detail what's wrong with our political process or how it might be fixed. What I know of electoral math is contained in this sentence.

As I noted earlier, it's “Marketing 101” to focus messages on likely prospects. Don't sell dog food to cat owners, or elephants to donkey lovers. But as an American, this is one time I wouldn't mind being a target. After all, it's the most important buying decision I'll ever make.

Missed Scott's column last month? Click here to have a read.

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