Thursday, October 30, 2008

Election 08, Propaganda, Marketing and Advertising

Given the imminent election it seems fitting to take a closer look at propaganda tactics (and parallels to marketing), especially those that have emerged in the 21st century. And don’t worry I’m not going to get into the nitty-gritty of platform delineations. I think it might be much more fun to look at how the candidates get us to think what we think and ultimately persuade us to vote one way or the other.

The most basic definition of propaganda is the presentation of information in order to influence an audience. The modern day interpretation of the term is definitely more menacing (depending on the culture) and is most commonly associated with political messages (full definition at Wikipedia). Not surprisingly advertising can be thought of as propaganda that promotes a commercial product or shapes the perception of an organization, person, or brand.

A little history…
Propaganda is of course as old as people, but a quick google search on the history of propaganda will tell you that the origin of the word is attributed to Pope Gregory XV when in 1622 he established the Sacred Congregation for Propagating the Faith. As you may have guessed, the primary responsibility of this department was the dissemination of Catholicism.

There are many forms of propaganda, but generally speaking all tactics fall into 7 main categories identified by the Institute for Propaganda Analysis in 1938. They are Assertion, Bandwagon, Card Stacking, Glittering Generalities, Lesser of Two Evils, Name Calling, Pinpointing the Enemy, Plain Folks, Simplification, Testimonials, and Transfer (you can probably get the gist of each type, but for full definitions go here).

Propaganda, Marketing and the 21st century…
People with ideas, whether they are religious or political, will always want to persuade others and they use various means to do so. Throughout history campaign posters, entire books (Karl Marx’s “The Communist Manifesto”), movies, and radio and tv advertisements have all been tools in the propagandists’ arsenal. In the 21st century technology has changed the game a bit.

In the 2004 election, Howard Dean was one of the first presidential candidates to utilize the internet to communicate with supporters and raise funds. Via the web, he raised approximately $50 million in campaign contributions, started a blog, and created a group of political activists called “Deaniacs” that organized gatherings called “meet ups”. In 2007 all 19 primary candidates had websites and a blog at the bare minimum and today all three of the candidates (yes, even Bob Barr) have a dedicated website (,, and email campaign and are leveraging increasingly creative strategies typically only executed by marketers like social networks, consumer generated viral videos, widgets, blogs, SEM strategies, and iPhone applications.

Barack Obama has unquestionably seen the most rewards by balancing mass marketing techniques with the latest developments in social media and niche marketing. He employed a Facebook founder (Chris Hughes) and other hired guns from various ad agencies and it’s paying off big time. In September alone Obama raised $150 million and the cash continues to flow. It is estimated that the Obama campaign spends $2.8 million a day on advertising, which is double McCain’s daily budget (McCain’s total budget for September 1st to November 4th is $84 million). On October 29th, 2008 Obama will air a half-hour infomercial on 7 networks that is considered to be one of the largest ad buys in election history. Not since Ross Perot’s run for president in 1992 have we seen such media roadblocks executed by a candidate. So I guess it’s not that surprising that Barack Obama was recently named Marketer of the Year (above Nike, Apple and Coors) by AdAge.

Regardless of which side of the fence you stand on (or maybe you stand ON the fence),
I don’t think anyone can question the remarkable change in propaganda tactics this election. Here are a few content examples – candidate generated and supporter generated.

Obama-Biden Tax Calculator widget: Based on your annual income and filing status (can also populate # of dependents, age, retirement, etc.) you can see your estimated tax savings under each candidate’s plan. Unless you make more than $200K a year Obama is going to save you money.
Viral email campaign: Sponsored by and TrueMajority PAC. Enter your friends name and email address and they will receive an invite to view a CNN type website with news coverage about how they (name inserted) lost the campaign for Obama by not voting. And to make sure you don’t forget to pass it on the creators send you a follow up email encouraging you to continue your “social nudging” efforts to help them achieve their goal of 10 million forwards by election day. music video: Entertainer created a music video that features celebrities reading/singing an Obama speech. To date it has been viewed 970,223 times on
Paris for Prez video: Created by Adam McKay (FunnyOrDie pioneer), this video is a response to John McCain’s political ad that attacks Obama’s celebrity.
Countdown for Change iPhone application: A clock (days, hours, minutes, seconds) created by a supporter that counts down the days to Election Day. Even if applications like these don’t directly garner any votes, it is yet another example of how Obama is immersed in the modern consumer experience.

You may be wondering why there are no McCain examples listed. All I can tell you is I sincerely tried to find some examples, beyond the standard myspace page, but was not successful. Perhaps that explains the polls. Time will tell.

What are some of your favorites? Have you found any good examples of McCain leveraging social media, web 2.0, etc.?

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