The oldest election marketing strategy

10th May 2017 in News

The oldest election marketing strategy

George Washington used them – can promotional products play a part in election marketing?

It’s been an interesting and intense last year in the world of politics. We’ve had country-defining general elections in America and France. Closer to home there was the EU referendum and the upcoming general election.

The first recorded use of promotional products was in an election campaign. George Washington used custom designed badges as part of his successful run in 1789. So, have promotional products been used in the marketing material of the election campaigns in these key elections?

Thankfully, we’re going to stay away from the politics. What we will look at is how branded products can work in modern-day election marketing and how some of the key players made their mark with these products.

The types of election marketing

In a study into the marketing effects in the US Presidential Elections, Doug J. Chung, an assistant professor at Harvard Business School, outlined two main lines of election marketing. The first was mass media advertising and retail campaigns. The second was field operations, getting out into the public and meeting voters.

The study found that in America, mass marketing worked particularly well for republicans and field operations worked better for democrats. This is attributed to the spread of likely voters, as democrats are more likely to be in urban areas. A republican candidate meeting and greeting likely voters in a same-sized area as a democrat will be able to reach far fewer people. This is something that is likely to be reflected in the UK’s election too.

Promotional products are often in the background of these marketing styles. The George Washington-inspired badges are always popular but in the 2016 American election, a promotional product came front and centre.

The cap

Make America Great Again. Whether Trump will make American great again (whether it used to be, still is, or never was is another argument) or not, everyone who paid even the slightest bit of attention to the presidential race will know Trump’s four-worded slogan. And everyone will recognise the red cap with that slogan embroidered on. The hats became so iconic that Trump’s campaign spent more money on the red caps than they did in polling information.

Promotional products have two main uses. They can be used to raise awareness and popularity and they can be used to raise funds. The red hat did the first job in getting Trump elected. Now it’s carrying out the second task.

According to Politico, Trump’s reelection campaign had already raised $13.2m between the new year and the end of March. The three reelection committees spent more than $4.5 million on promotional hats, t-shirts, mugs and stickers. All being sold on for profit or given away to raise awareness.

It’s a fundraising tactic that works for small local charities and it’s working for the American president.

A place in the digital world

Elections are becoming increasingly online dominant. Both Donald Trump and Hilary Clinton were prominent on social media throughout the campaign. Clinton tweeting Trump to delete his account received over a million combined retweets and likes on Twitter. She even posted a mannequin challenge on the eve of the election.

Trump’s social media popularity often relied on shock and awe, with seemingly no limitations or boundaries to his posts. The perceived lack of a filter from Trump showed that he’s ‘willing to say what’s on this mind’ — something that resonated with his supporters. French election runner-up Marine Le Pen also took to social media for her campaign. The right-wing candidate tweeted multiple times a day in the run-up to both election days in France.

Social media and online content marketing is all part of the mass marketing line of running an election campaign. Promotional products can — and have — be used as an important part of running a campaign

Doug J. Chung’s paper highlighted the similarities and parallels between product marketing and a national political election. Studying the importance of time and money in both product marketing and how a presidential candidate would market themselves. The use of promotional items is one of those parallels.

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