How to make your political opponent look bad in TV ads: A step-by-step guide

Since I’m guessing you loathe television political ads as much as I do, let’s turn it into a game; how many of the TV political ads that you see follow this formula?

A black and white old television set. On the screen are found young people gathered around a TV themselves
“not everything has a reason” by Robert Couse-Baker is licensed under CC BY 2.0

Since I’m guessing you loathe television political ads as much as I do, let’s turn it into a game; how many of the TV political ads that you see follow this formula?

(written with sarcasm, but really, see how many actually fit this)

Step 1: Obtain footage of your opponent, preferably with them alone. Bonus points if it shows them walking away from people.

Step 2: Change the footage of your opponent from color to black and white.

Step 3: Add daunting music, as similar to the Jaws movie theme without being obvious. Also, you don’t want to distract your audience by having them think “I really want to watch Jaws now, that movie is awesome.”

Step 4: Contrast the black and white footage you’ve just showed with testimonials from senior citizens, veterans, and working-class people talking about how that candidate just “isn’t right for us,” but your candidate is. Bonus points for each time one of them says “trust” with your candidate.

Step 5: Show video of your candidate walking into a room, waving, while a very large group stands and claps like they’ve each just won a million dollars. Make sure the music is upbeat and hopeful-sounding.

Step 6: Show your candidate having one-on-one conversations with senior citizens, veterans, and working-class people. Bonus points for small children, especially babies.

Step 7: Show your candidate looking directly into the camera, saying how much he or she will “work for you.”

Step 8: End with the obligatory stuff. “I’m x candidate and I approve this message” and “This ad was paid for by x committee that sounds like it has nothing to do with politics.”

And, cut.

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What’s with all of the Shen Yun ads?

Photograph of women in traditional Chinese attire performing a dance
Image from lyndenj licensed under CC0 Creative Commons license.

If you live anywhere near a large city, you’ve probably seen the billboards, posters, flyers, etc. showing a woman graciously dancing, inviting you to a traditional Chinese dance performance called Shen Yun.

When I first saw these ads, I thought, “Oh how nice, I love cultural events promoting international art forms.” What set-off my skepticism, however, was the volume of their advertising. I sold billboard and radio advertising in the very early years of my career and have bought a lot of mass media as a marketing director. Using that knowledge, I did some rough math for the Houston area: the potential income from these performances in ticket sales (not factoring for any freebies given out and assuming each show is sold out) minus advertising expenses (that I knew of, which is limited since I don’t have TV and don’t travel the whole city), event rental hall prices, and costs of travel and such for the dance troupe.

I couldn’t make the math work where they would turn a profit.

Luckily, I wasn’t the only one who noticed their seemingly unlimited promotional budget and got curious; The Guardian has a great investigative piece about Shen Yun that is worth reading as does the Los Angeles Times. Both articles claim the goal of the performances is not to turn a profit from selling tickets, but to promote the agenda of a particular religious group, Falun Gong (Falun Dafa), and gain sympathy of their persecution by the Chinese government.

Which “side” is right? I don’t claim to have an opinion on this. But it’s important to highlight examples like their advertising and events where the goal of the advertising and/or event is different than we would originally assume.

I bought a dress because of your Facebook ad, but you may not know it

A model walks down a fashion show runway in a red and black dress
“Stop Looking! Fashion Runway 2011” by Henry Jose, via Flickr Creative Commons is licensed under CC BY 4.0

I recently bought a dress online following this flow:

  1. See dress on a Facebook ad, fall in love with it, click on ad
  2. Ad takes me to a company page, I’ve never heard of the company before, this makes me wary of purchasing
  3. Conduct a Google search for reviews of dress
  4. Finding nothing, go to Amazon and look for the dress there. Find positive reviews, including photos of actual people wearing the dress
  5. Opt to purchase on Amazon because:
    1. Amazon has standardized recourse/return methods if the purchase goes bad
    2. I can easily track the shipment
    3. I had a gift card from my birthday I wanted to use up
    4. It was the same price as the initial website

If you’re the business selling the dress, using simple Click-Through Rate (CTR) tracking methods (# of people clicked on ad, % purchased after clicking), you’ll never know that the Facebook ad “worked.”

If you’re using “Last Interaction Model” tracking, you’ll assume the purchase came from Amazon. Amazon played a role, but it wasn’t the whole story and didn’t prompt the purchase.

If you’re using “First Interaction Model” tracking, you’ll assume the Facebook ad did all of the work, ignoring the role of the web search and Amazon.

To really understand the full journey, you have to look at a broader set of data and how various advertisements and marketing promotions play critical roles in your sales.

 

Further reading: Addressing the Question: Measuring Advertising ROI

 

Implementing change series: Plant a seed

When someone holds a strongly-held belief, presenting new facts or information and thinking they will change right away is a fools errand. In the majority of cases, they won’t. So, I take solace in planting seeds.

A few years ago, I was talking to a friend of mine, a college English professor, who was discussing a book club meeting he was at. One of the other members stated a belief about the text, that was factually incorrect.

This conversation happened years ago, but here’s my best recollection of what happened next:

Me: Did you let them know that’s false?

Him: Nope

Me: Why not?

Him: I could tell they hold that belief very strongly. They weren’t ready to hear the fact about it. If I’d countered with that fact, they would have shut down. So I just asked them for support what they said, which they couldn’t provide, but got them thinking. My job isn’t to change their mind fully, I couldn’t do that with such a strongly held belief, my job is to plant a seed toward new information and understanding and hope that it grows.

Planting Seeds

This conversation really changed my perspective on change management. When someone holds a strongly-held belief, presenting new facts or information and thinking they will change right away is a fools errand. In the majority of cases, they won’t. So, I take solace in planting seeds.

I recently read a Washington Post article about Derek Black renouncing his family’s white supremacist stance. This is a great example of seeds being planted, it wasn’t just one dinner, or one conversation, that moved Derek Black, it was a number of encounters and conversations that moved him to where he is now.

In my work consulting schools on encouraging faculty to adopt Open Educational Resources (OER), I’ve witnessed this many times with faculty. and administrators. There are some faculty who are ready to make the leap right away, and I coach institutions to focus on helping those faculty adopt, but I also consider the work we’re doing on their campuses now as planting seeds for those in the late majority or laggards part of the Diffusion of Innovation Curve.

Similarly, there are also faculty who I’ve now worked with for three years to adopt. They email me every six months or so, ask a question, and disappear again. Each conversation is a seed that brings them closer, and it’s very exciting when one of these faculty do decide transition to OER.

As I’ve written about before when discussing advertising ROI, most major purchase decisions also aren’t made from a single communication or a single source of communication. It’s usually a series of seeds, an ad they see, a conversation with a friend, an experience they’ve had, that move someone to purchase.

What does this mean for OER and other change initiatives?

  1. Still track faculty or consumers who say “yes” now. This gives you an idea what parts of your initiative are working.
  2. Keep track of who interacted with you, but didn’t say yes. You planted a seed with these folks and you have a good chance these folks will say yes in the future.
  3. Make note of other ways you can tell a seed was planted. If for nothing else, to remind you that you are making progress. But,  #1 on this list should always your main focus with any of your actions, followed by #2. This one is just gravy on top. See Combine Active and Passive Strategies for High Impact Results for a more detailed outline of these three.

What does this mean in personal conversations?

What I learned from my friend, is, when someone states a strongly held belief that you think is untrue, don’t counter directly. Take a deep breath and plant a seed by asking for more information. But, you also have to open to maybe having them plant a seed in you during this process as well.

Implementing change series: Timing is everything

“In most cases, our direct mail piece is worthless. But in the hands of someone who just found out  they need new windows? It’s priceless.”

An owner of a window company made this statement when one of my colleagues asked him how he thought direct mail was working for him. Obviously, we’d need a lot more data to prove that it is, indeed, providing good return on investment (ROI), but the implication of timing is dead-on.

If it’s raining and there’s a crowd, it’s a good time to sell umbrellas and ponchos. If there’s a party or event without food being served, the timing is perfect for a food truck. But, for most large change initiatives (where we’re asking for a big change and/or a long-term change), it can be much more difficult to know when the timing is perfect for two main reasons:

1. The timing isn’t the same for everyone you’re trying to reach.

In the window example at the beginning, not everyone needs new windows at once. There may be parts of the year when it’s more likely someone will find out they need new windows, but it’s still scattered throughout the year.

Similarly, in my work promoting Open Educational Resources (OER), every faculty member doesn’t consider new textbooks and alternatives to textbooks at the same time. They may consider new books every year, every three years, or whenever they decide it’s a good time to. There’s no set formula.

2. The timing depends on external factors (usually beyond your control).

For someone to decide to make a change, usually there’s some sort of event that precedes that decision. Again, looking at our windows example, a homeowner considers new windows when they are told they need them by a home inspector or if their current set of windows is damaged somehow.

With OER, the event could be a complaint of the high cost from a student, or a publisher raising their prices again, or a technical error with the publisher’s system, or a discussion within the department of how to reduce high drop/fail rates.

Sometimes you’ll be able to anticipate these events happening, like monitoring publisher prices, but many times you may not even know they’ve occurred.

Being in the right place at the right time

A young man jumping off of sand. The timing is such that you see a trail of sand.
“jump” by Barry Badcock, via Flickr Creative Commons is licensed under CC BY 4.0

The simple solution would be to shout from the rooftops about the change you’re encouraging all the time. But, in practice, this is not only costly, but can leave those that you are trying to reach tone-deaf to your message. Think about that person who sends you too many irrelevant emails, do you read them all anymore? I’m guessing not.

The better solution is a pulse schedule. This is where you keep a low hum of communication about the change out there at all times, but you amp-up your messaging around those critical events and external factors you can predict.

A great example of a pulse schedule is candy manufacturers. In the U.S., candy manufacturers are always advertising, but for a couple of weeks (lately a few months!) leading up to major holidays (Halloween, Christmas, Easter, Valentine’s Day)? They are everywhere, there’s no escaping the barrage of marketing from them. These are their pulse times.

With OER, the pulses are around the academic calendar. The first pulse to encourage faculty to consider OER should happen when the faculty come to the welcome back event for faculty at the beginning of the fall semester. They are refreshed and ready to start a new year. The second pulse comes mid-way through he semester, faculty are in between their busy start-up period and exam periods. Similarly, there’s another great pulse time mid-way through the spring semester, leading up to the bookstore deadline for Fall (usually early-mid April).

By keeping a constant hum of communication about the change initiative and ramping-up (pulsing) when people are most open to the change, your can maximize your efforts for encouraging change.

Pitbull’s Twitter & Facebook contains ads: A rare look at celebrity social media marketing contracts

Rapper pitbull performing with dancers on a stage
“Pitbull (Austin, Texas, 2015-02-07)” by Ralph Arvesen, via Flickr Creative Commons is licensed under CC BY 2.0

This week, after a long, contentious battle over making the contract public, the rapper Pitbull published his 1 million dollar contract with the State of Florida via his twitter account.

Most contracts between talent and agency are usually confidential, but because it was with a governmental agency, it could be public domain (hence the contention). What we do know for sure, however, is that it offers us a rare glimpse of one of these contracts and the role of social media advertising from celebrities.

Under section 4.3, Social Media and Email we find:

4.3.1 Social Media

A. The Contractor will provide Talent’s digital services team to make in aggregate a minimum of two (2) social network posts each month on each of Talent’s various social media channels. (e.g., 2 Tweets, 2 Facebook posts, etc.) in support of the VISIT FLORIDA mission to promote tourism; and including the social media hashtag “#LoveFL”. The manner and method of these posts shall be in accordance with Contractor’s organic approach to assure the authenticity of the posts and to avoid over-saturation (e.g., December may include myriad posts and January far less) and with due consideration of Contractor’s activities and demographics and to avoid any alienation of Talent’s fans given the general non-commercial nature of Talent’s social media sites. Where appropriate the posts shall include the presence of Florida photos in a manner consistent with Contractor’s past activities. The Contractor will include a creative written call to action to drive traffic to VISIT FLORIDA’S Facebook page (e.g., “Like VISIT FLORIDA’s Facebook page) when posting on Pitbull’s Facebook page.

B. Contractor will provide reporting that includes proof of all social media network posts as indicated above. 

4.3.2 Email Contacts

A. The Contractor will work with VISIT FLORIDA staff to drive social media and email traffic to allow an aggregation of at least 500,000 email contacts for potential solicitation by VISIT FLORIDA for tourism activities/information. The Parties will work in good faith to create terms, conditions and procedures to assure that collection of all data is in accordance with all applicable laws and regulations, including without limitations the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA). All aggregated emails and user data acquired by VISIT FLORIDA in connection with Contractor will be shared with Contractor. 

What we can learn from the above:

  • It’s not really Pitbull posting on these pages. He, along with most public figures, has a “digital services team” posting on his behalf.
  • Celebrities get compensated for posts on social media sites. I’m sure Pitbull loves Florida, but the reality is, he’s getting paid to post on their behalf.
  • Some celebrity social media posts are ads, and they don’t want you to realize that. Reading the above, it’s obvious VISIT FLORIDA wanted the posts to be “authentic” and not come across as ads. This is an ethical issue for me, I’m not a fan of ads that are designed so people don’t realize they are ads. But, it’s prevalent with celebrities and social media.
  • The goal is to capture your information. VISIT FLORDIA’s goal is clear, they want to capture email addresses for at least 500,000 people for purposes of marketing to them. And they aren’t alone; most similar promotions are all about information capture.
  • And your information will be shared.  Not only is VISIT FLORIDA capturing people’s information, once they have it, they are going to share it back with Pitbull’s marketing team so they can also market to those people. This is very common as well.

Thanks for posting the contract, Pitbull (team):

I appreciate Pitbull’s team posting the contract. I think they saved themselves a lot of further public relations headaches by doing so and, as the title of this post says, it gives us a rare glimpse into one of these contracts.

With that said, what it shows is disheartening; there’s no more of an illusion that celebrity social media accounts are an ad-free zone. I think most people know this, intuitively, but having such concrete evidence of it public makes it hard to ignore.

 

Breast Cancer Sponsorship, is it really a good thing?

“Of course cause marketing is a good thing,” I thought to myself. But, the counterargument, “The adoption of social responsibility through cause-related marketing as a business strategy is unethical” by Peggy Kreshel changed my perspective.

Let me start by saying that I absolutely believe in the search for a cure for breast cancer and all harmful diseases and I support any woman, family, friend, affected by breast cancer. This post is merely to discuss whether or not marketers should be involved in the process.

For my Masters in Advertising, I had to take a course titled, “Advertising and Society.” The textbook we used was “Advertising and Society. Controversies and Consequences” edited by Carol J. Pardun. The book was set-up with a point and counterpoint for every argument. At first, it struck me as odd that there would even be a counterpoint to cause marketing. “Of course cause marketing is a good thing,” I thought to myself. But, the counterargument, “The adoption of social responsibility through cause-related marketing as a business strategy is unethical” by Peggy Kreshel changed my perspective.

Why is breast cancer such a popular sponsorship choice?

One of the most popular causes to sponsor is breast cancer. Everywhere you look, particularly in October because it’s Breast Cancer Awareness Month, there are pink ribbons, pink shirts, pink products, etc. Kershel points out that there are three main reasons breast cancer is the end-all, be-all of organization sponsorship:

  1. Breast cancer is a safe bet when it comes to corporate sponsorship. Who really is going to be against curing breast cancer? Pretty much no one. But, another cause, such as AIDS, is not such a safe bet. There are a lot of sexual connotations about AIDS and what lifestyles contract AIDS. So, by supporting AIDS research, corporations risk offending some of their consumer base who have negative views about AIDS and those that contract AIDS.
  2. Breast cancer has an easily recognized symbol and color. Everyone knows it and knows what it means to attach a corporation’s name to it.
  3. Women have significant buying power when it comes to their families and their home. Breast cancer sponsorship is an easy way for a corporation to show middle-aged women that they are their friends.
breast cancer pink ribbon pin and reflection
“Breast cancer reflection” by Williami5, via Flickr Creative Commons is licensed under CC BY 2.0

What’s controversial about corporations sponsoring breast cancer?

Two of Kreshel’s answers are the following:

  • “…decisions regarding resource allocation in some of the most vital arenas of public welfare – health, environment, education – are made by marketing professionals and corporate executives focus on corporate needs and objectives, rather than by professionals in the relevant areas…Do corporate decision-makers have the knowledge base and experience to weigh the efficacy of these approaches to solving the social problem?” (198). Basically, what we have now, through corporate sponsorship, is millions of dollars going to causes based on what will be best for the corporation vs. what is best for society. And, it’s encouraging us to only focus on causes that have marketing and sponsorship opportunities rather than those causes that need the funding the most.
  • “The fact that the disease [breast cancer] is increasing in industrialized nations suggests the possibility of environmental factors” (198). But, “[feminist] emphasis on ecological factors…is not shared by groups such as Komen and the American Cancer Society. Breast cancer would hardly be the darling of corporate American if it’s complexion changed from pink to green” (Ehrenrich as cited in Kreshel, pg. 198). This is a tough pill to swallow, but it brings up a good point. Causes that are sponsored by corporations want to stay on their good side and stay neutral so the corporations see no risks and all benefits when sponsoring them. So what if, as suggested, breast cancer was linked to environmental factors? The environment is a hot political issue right now and, if Komen and the American Cancer Society were to give those environmental factors their proper emphasis, they risk loss of sponsorships because they will be seen as swinging to one side politically. In this way, corporations are shaping the path to the cause. If true, it also creates an ethical issue for researchers of breast cancer. Will they tell the truth and risk their corporate funding or will they remain silent?

Overall, I’m glad that corporations give money to causes and I do support corporations and businesses who give money to charity. However, reading Kreschel’s full argument really has made me less-likely to jump on any cause-marketing bandwagon. Perhaps we need to find another solution that allows corporations to give money in a way that shows social charity/responsibility, but still allows the money to be distributed to where it truly needs to go while also allowing causes the freedom to do what is best for their cause.