March 2008 - Channel Crossing: DRTV

A Primer on Candidates’ DRTV Opportunities

By Gene Silverman

Having lived in Iowa for the past 20 years and having participated in the nation’s first presidential caucus each election cycle, I have been given some insight into just how little political advertising has evolved with the times. Here in the Hawkeye State, the election cycle begins with 30-second TV spots about six months in advance of the Iowa caucus. Before you know it, red, white and blue signs bearing the names of every presidential aspirant, including some you’ve never even heard, crop up on neighborhood lawns like so many cornstalks. Next, we’re face to face with the candidates themselves as they visit local coffee shops and luncheonettes. Once in a while, they will even show up at your door. And, before they leave town, they enthusiastically give their stump speech at the local library or, if the weather cooperates, to a larger crowd that gathers in the town square.

Except for TV, radio and web activity, presidential politics out here in the heartland has really not changed that much since Abraham Lincoln did the same sort of grassroots tactics back in 1860. And from what I saw in the electronic media, despite a $45 million investment, the 2008 candidates’ TV and radio commercials have not advanced the art of campaigning very much either. Their 30-second TV ads are more or less the video equivalent of Honest Abe’s campaign posters and lapel buttons from so many years ago-short, clichéd and not really very informative.

As the primary season nears its finale and with the national conventions and November election just on the horizon, I think it’s my patriotic duty to give the candidates and their handlers a primer on how they could modernize their approach and utilize some advanced electronic direct response advertising techniques to their advantage. After all, we in the direct response advertising community have the most effective and measurable form of advertising there is, so we should be patriotic and share our unique insights with the candidates. We might even be able to teach the future leader of the free world something new about how to cost-effectively impact public opinion.

My first bit of advice: create an informative and entertaining infomercial that treats each potential voter as an intelligent individual who is in need of a well-crafted tutorial about my candidate’s stand on the issues, his or her vision and character. Despite Ross Perot’s very successful use of long form in 1992, political infomercials have been an underutilized, yet powerful tactic. With a fraction of a typical spot media buy budget, the infomercial could create a wave of positive PR and inform the general public about the candidate in a positive way-the precise way we want to craft our candidate’s image-not necessarily the way the media portrays him or her.

With 28 and one-half minutes of TV time, we would have enough time to truly educate the voter about the candidate and what he or she is really all about. With long form, there will be enough time to demonstrate the candidate’s strong points, show his or her passion and elaborate on that individual’s positions on a variety of critical issues. There also would be time to meet the family, tout the candidate’s career achievements and get to know his or her innermost thoughts. Toward the end of our presentation, I would build an emotional and compelling crescendo, which would inspire the viewer to respond to the 800 number or go online to donate money, time or organizing power to further the candidate’s cause.

Because the direct response mechanisms (1-800-candidate name and embedded in our political infomercial are highly memorable, we should be able to generate a valuable database of potential supporters-complete with e-mail addresses and phone numbers. What we do with this hot list is critical, especially because there are a variety of local campaign activities for which our respondents could be recruited. Through professional outbound telemarketing and well-crafted e-mail solicitations, the folks on our infomercial-generated list could be converted to energetic neighborhood canvassers, a virtual army of volunteer foot soldiers who go door to door distributing literature, putting up posters and talking up our champion, all the while wearing our candidate’s campaign button. It’s like Abe Lincoln did, but multiplied by thousands.

In order to expand the infomercial phenomenon further, I would use targeted e-mail campaigns to cultivate the many thousands of potential donors from the infomercial list who, because they have responded favorably to it, may be open to contributing to a media fund for airing the infomercial even more on local stations in states with upcoming primaries and ultimately, on national networks during the general election.

The above scenario is really just Infomercial Marketing 101, but I think you can see how tried-and-true techniques, which we use every day, could be adapted as an innovative and effective campaign strategy. It seems to me that the next president of the United States could be just an infomercial away from making history. Hillary, Barack, John? Is anybody out there listening?

Gene Silverman, vice president, marketing services/account management at Hawthorne Direct, has been an executive in the direct response TV industry for over 20 years, with expertise in integrating DRTV campaigns and other electronic and traditional marketing channels. He can be reached at [email protected].


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