Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

We managed to make it through the most ad-heavy election cycle of all time, with spend for television commercials alone reaching nearly $1 billion.

As Americans breathe a sigh of relief to now be seeing holiday ads, and commercials for dog food, laundry detergent and mattress sales return, it’s perhaps a good time to step back and assess just how successful the “shock and awe” marketing strategy was for 2012’s candidates.

The average ad spend per constituent varied wildly across different regions and districts, and it depended somewhat on the types of media each constituent accessed regularly and what precautions those audiences had taken to avoid ads (e.g., blocking cookies on web browsers or recording television programs to view them without commercial interruptions).

For me, the question that remains is this: After such an unprecedented year, will marketers listen to the outcry from the overwhelmed public and give political ads a rest next time? Will future campaigns and PACs decide that enough is enough? Not likely.

Even when the ads hit a fever pitch in the last few weeks of the campaign and viewers threatened to camp out on Netflix just to avoid them, the results show that political spots (both online and off) reach just enough eyeballs and do just enough subconscious embedding to justify the push.

But let’s say you’re not a lobbyist or a beleaguered campaign manager. You’re a marketer with an important event or initiative to promote, and you want to increase your push, too. Were there any positive takeaways from the 2012 election ad blitz? What lessons can marketers learn?

  • Go where your audience is. Depending on your demographic, a series of televison ads—however intelligent and thoughtful they may be—may fall on not just deaf ears, but no ears. Before you make the investment, do your homework. Does your audience watch that network? Is that a program/time-slot they care about? Do your customers watch television at all? If your audience is online, you need to invest there. If they read the paper, invest there. If they spend a lot of time in bus shelters . . . well, you get the drift.
  • Targeting yields better results than saturation. A single compelling ad that truly takes aim at your core demographic is better than 10 ads that head out into the ether without a direct destination. If you can identify these three things –your audience, what you want them to know and what they actually want to hear –you don’t have to engage everyone and anyone who might care. Focus on the buyers and prospects who are already pre-qualified to listen.
  • The right message at the right time makes all the difference. Political strategists do a great job of adjusting their messaging to address new knowledge, new circumstances and new voter concerns. They stand a better chance of making an impact if they are current and specific, rather than general and vague. Keep your messaging fresh and relevant, and it will go further. Plus, the pitch will be more compelling to your targets.
  • “Why should this matter to me?” While many political operatives focus their efforts on trashing the character of their opponents or elevating their candidate’s profile, the ads that most inspire people to action are the “relatable” ones, the ads where audiences can recognize their own concerns and goals. To be successful, make certain your marketing focuses on what your audience needs and wants before it focuses on what you provide. Remember: Today’s consumer wants to be heard. You have to establish the “so what?” before you can offer the “what.”

While it may seem like the 2012 political and election ads were much more annoying than they were educational, done right, such ads still offer a master class in how to convey important messages to the people who need to hear them. Yes, even though we love to hate them, political campaigns can offer very valuable lessons – especially for marketers who don’t have $1 billion to spend.