Political Marketing Is in Good Hands With Hillary

Am I the only one who went to YouTube to watch the Hillary presidential announcement and kept clicking all over the screen to find the “Skip Ad” button? Here’s a young mom talking about going back to work, and a Boomer planning for retirement, and a young business owner reveling in the American Dream, and I’m waiting for the Fidelity green path to appear or the Charles Schwab logo to pop up. The darn thing runs up to 48 seconds and I’m about ready to prepare a story on the advent of minute-long pre-roll video ads when I click on the end of the video bar and see…Hillary? I’ve used this space many times before to write about the blurring of the lines between political and brand marketing, but this is ridiculous. I’m expecting Dennis Haysbert from the All-State ads to pop up behind her and intone, “You’re in good hands with Hillary.” It would, after all, be an endorsement from a man who had already inhabited the Oval Office. OK, it was on a set for 24, but again, the blurring, the blurring!

It wasn’t to be. Hillary would serve as her own spokesperson. “Everyday Americans want a champion,” she says at the spot’s climax, “and I want to be that champion. So, I’m hitting the road to earn your vote, because it’s your time, and I hope you’ll join me on this journey.” Like a good salesperson, she asked for the order. Still, I lingered a little at the end, hoping for a cameo from Flo trying to sell her some bus insurance for the road trip.

President Barack Obama whipped Mitt Romney good in 2012 because he conducted one of the most data-driven, segmented, interactive email campaigns in the history of marketing. He didn’t hire the same marketers to erect Healthcare.gov, unfortunately, but after the election he emerged with one of the most valuable lists of Democratic donors and voters ever assembled. I mused at the time that he could become the kingmaker of 2016 by bestowing that list on a worthy candidate, but that was unlikely to be Hillary at any rate. Hillary, it turns out, didn’t need it. Her brand was already sacred among Dems, and on Sunday she burnished it to the tune of four million views on YouTube. With nary a penny spent, she proved that the proper digital propellant applied to the right brand could launch a bid for the White House—and even begin to position her alongside Flo and Jared from Subway and the wry young gal in the AT&T Wireless spots in the pantheon of ubiquitous spokespeople.

It’s estimated that combatants in the 2016 presidential race will spend a record $5 billion. But, counting production costs of Hillary’s insurance ad, she’s staged an earned media coup by spending less than half a million bucks on data and data management services, such as those provided by NGP VAN, the Democratic National Party’s approved provider of database marketing services. We’ve tried to contact NPG VAN to no avail, but the work they can do for Dems is akin to what the digital marketing firm Targeted Victory did in helping elect Greg Abbot governor of Texas last fall—which was to upend traditional political canvassing as we knew it.

Using A/B testing and data modeling in interactions with Texas voters, Targeted Victory was able to identify likely Abbot voters who were unlikely to bother showing up at the polls. Neighborhood ward-heelers, then, directed their canvassers to knock only on the doors of those qualified customers, that is, voters. And vote many of them did, to the tune of a 20-percentage-point victory for Abbott over Democratic opponent Wendy Davis.

I’ll be watching to see what marketing innovations candidates and their data masters devise this year, and you should be, too. I expect great things from Hillary, as well as from Jeb and Marco and Rand. (They all have good, brand-worthy first names, don’t you agree?) When all is said and done, I invite you to discourse with me on why they can’t do as slick a job running the country as they do getting elected.

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