Talking Politics: Unopposed mid-Missouri Candidates Pay the Price for Political Marketing

Nov 7, 2016

The Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton campaigns had spent an estimated $150 million combined on advertisements by September of the 2016 presidential election, according to Advertising Age. It’s safe to say politics and marketing go hand in hand, especially when clear opposition exists between candidates.

But the close relationship between politics and marketing is tricky. A single marketing choice can have lasting consequences, and candidates will pay a pretty penny to avoid a choice that results in a campaign catastrophe.

The price of being a politician is high – even when there is no opponent. In Missouri, there are 79 unopposed candidates in the general election. Every single one has cracked into their campaign war chest and fought the battle of staying marketable and relevant.

Television advertisements are a common weapon of choice. According to a Nielsen Total Audience report, North Americans spend around five hours in front of the TV per day.

“A week's worth of television advertising in mid-Missouri costs about $65,000,” James Harris, a political strategist in Jefferson City, said.

Although expensive, TV ads can communicate a specific message to a wide audience. The tone of that message differs depending on the organization it’s coming from and the candidate it’s directed toward.

“The biggest difference is the role of negativity in the campaign,” said Bruce Newman, professor of marketing at DePaul University. “If there’s an opposing candidate, the odds are there is going to be some kinds of negative accusations, opposing views, support from others that either refute or contradict what it is the candidate that’s being opposed is saying.”

The message from unopposed candidates moves away from typical negative attack ads and pivots into other focuses like educating constituents and helping their party.

“There’s no reason to be anything other than positive and talk about your ideas for the post that you’re running for,” Newman said.

TV ads are a no-brainer for the traditional candidate. But Newman said a candidate with a younger constituent group may benefit from social media. It’s cheap – unlike TV ads – and it’s also accessible.

KM Guru Marketing, which provides internet and mobile marketing services, has offices in both California and Missouri. The company acknowledged a difference between the states when it came to reader response on different social media platforms. Mid-Missouri candidates would benefit from Twitter and Facebook.

“Twitter is the best, as it provides much communication from all realms of folks,” founder and CEO Kate DeGraff said. “Of course, Facebook ads are the most cost-efficient and effective. Maybe not so much out in the Bay, but here in Missouri, yes.”

Professionals in the marketing industry believe there’s a place for television commercials and social media content in Missouri’s political campaigns. Unopposed candidates have the same belief, and their financial reports back that.

According to expenditure reports published by the Missouri Ethics Commission, each unopposed candidate listed expenditures for services varying from social media advertising to media purchases throughout 2016.

Meanwhile, the political climate is changing, and so is its marketing industry. Newman researched and followed the trends. He points to increased use of new media in his book “The Marketing Revolution in Politics.”

“I make the case for the emerging trend of big data, social media, customer analytics and micro-targeting affecting every level in every race,” Newman said. “Regardless of level, regardless of whether you're running opposed or unopposed, that is the trend. That is the future for political campaigns.”