Political Marketing and The Media

Political marketing bears a number of similarities to the marketing of goods and services. Consumers choose among brands just as voters choose among candidates or parties. In democracies, political marketing has become part of the political sphere. If you want to be a successful politician, a leading political party, an influential lobby and pressure group, you have to master the art of political marketing; this is to say how to sell yourself, your programmes and your platforms to the public, to the voters, to those who decide about your destiny and faith. For decades, politicians have relied on basic marketing skills — campaign buttons, pins, caps, mugs, posters, political rallies and campaign speeches to familiarise voters with a name, a party, and a programme. 

Going back to Franklin D Roosevelt, all modern day presidents have relied on marketing to a greater or lesser degree to communicate their message to the people of their country. The same principles that operate in the commercial marketplace hold true for the political marketplace: successful companies have a market orientation and are constantly engaged in creating value for their customers. In other words, marketers must anticipate their customers’ needs, and then constantly develop innovative products and services to keep their customers satisfied. Politicians have a similar orientation and are constantly trying to create value for their constituents by improving the quality of life, and creating the most benefit at the smallest cost. Newman defines political marketing as follows: “…the application of marketing principles and procedures in political campaigns by various individuals and organisations. The procedures involved include the analysis, development, execution, and management of strategic campaigns by candidates, political parties, governments, lobbyists and interest groups that seek to drive public opinion, advance their own ideologies, win elections, and pass legislation and referenda in response to the needs and wants of selected people and groups in a society”.

Over the three decades, a new industry focusing on political marketing has emerged. At the end of the 1990s, this new industry was estimated to have employed some 7,000 people who worked for a living on campaigns. For instance, the American Association of Political Consultants claimed at that time to have had over 800 active members who handled campaign businesses worth more than US$1bn a year. One of the prerequisites to running a successful political campaign these days is the incorporation of opposition research into the candidate’s campaign organisation. In business, market segmentation and targeting are used to identify those groups of customers who the marketer directs his product and promotional campaign towards. It is used by many companies who choose not to sell their product or service to every potential customer, but only those who are likely to buy it. In politics, market segmentation has been traditionally used by political parties to choose which segments of citizens they target with their appeals.

It is evident that the political marketing concept is based on Kotler’s approach to marketing research for nonprofit organisations. According to this approach, a political party participating in parliamentary elections or a candidate running for president must identify the needs, interests, and values of voters and present himself in such a way so as to best fit these requirements. 

Even if the candidate is able to identify the country’s key social, economic, or political problems, without systematic research h/she is not able to determine how various voter groups perceive these problems. 

It can be assumed that the problems hold different weights for particular groups. Therefore, the candidate should try to fit his/her voting strategy to different voter segments — that is, to find the best position for himself in each of them. Such a procedure requires marketing research. 

Once the multiple voter segments have been identified, the candidate has to position himself/herself in the marketplace. Positioning is a multi-stage process that begins with the candidate assessing both his/her own and his/her opponents’ strengths and weaknesses. Positioning is the vehicle which allows the candidate to convey his/her image to voters in the best light possible. The image is crafted through the media by emphasising certain personality traits of the candidate, as well as stressing various issues. For example, George W Bush realised that as a perceived outsider to Washington, he was in a good position to criticise the system which Bill Clinton and Al Gore had governed for the past two terms. Using that general theme to define his campaign, Bush then successfully positioned himself as the candidate who was able to resolve the problems he attached to the Clinton/Gore tenure.

The media plays a strategic role in the political marketing plan and strategy. Voting campaign is defined by the amount of candidate coverage in mass media (including TV, newspapers, and magazines), the support the candidate gains, and the amount of money spent on advertising. 

At this level, the candidate uses the results of earlier market research and usually knows how a message should be constructed, where it should be placed, and how often it should be repeated to mobilise voters. 

It should be stressed that the candidate marketing map is compatible with the process of planning and organising political campaigns. This process includes three stages: the preparation process during which the candidate assesses his/her and his/her competition’s strengths, the process of developing a strategy of influencing voters, and the process of implementing the strategy.

Kirat is a professor of Public Relations and Mass Communication at the College of Arts and Sciences, Qatar University.

Source : The Peninsular Qatar

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