What brands can learn from politcal campaigns in the USA and New Zealand

Grace Russel, Matt Ellwood
July 14, 2020


The power of data and our social media platforms has meant we have become much better at targeting people with the exact message we want to send at just the right time. Do this enough, and you start to shift the discourse of this targeted group of people both consciously and unconsciously.

In the case of the 2016 USA elections, not only did Trump outspend Clinton on his campaign by $16 million USD, but more importantly, his team was also far more sophisticated when it came to performance marketing.

Trump’s campaign had 5.9 million variations in ads that used lookalike audiences which were able to target the right person with the right message vs Clinton, who had 66 thousand variations which cast a wide net of appeal and hoped for the best outcome.


The use of performance marketing makes us unsure whether our leaders are elected because they had better policies, or whether they are elected because they had a better performance marketing team. But it begs the question, is politics just marketing? But instead of a product, they are selling a vision of a better country. And surely the more convincing vision should be voted for.


In looking at what ads the New Zealand Labour and National Parties are running for the election less than 100 days away, it appears that there are two very different stories. While Labour has had close to 900 ad variations running this year, National has had 20. To add to that for each ad, Labour has multiple variations. They will vary their spend based on the target audience.



What is interesting for both parties is that they are not consistently in-market. Labour looks to be doing short but big bursts and National will do slightly longer and small bursts in-market. As of 1 July, both parties have not been live with ads for over two weeks.

Looking at minor and supporting parties, The Green Party has had over 100 ads since October with little variations. They are also following National and Labour in not having any ads live for the last 2 weeks.

Act is the only party that has ads live and currently delivering. They have around 290 ad variants of 8 different creative messages targeting different audiences. The interesting thing is that it appears that they are not customising the message for each audience, which may be a lost opportunity.

New Zealand First? Someone needs to remind them of their Facebook Ad Manager login.



If we were to compare these campaigns to the US 2016 elections from a performance marketing perspective, Labour is running a Trump style campaign while National is running a Hillary campaign. Labour seem to have more ads, more audience insights and better targeting. Labour have set themselves up to have better conversations with voters via social media than any other party, and if we are to believe the effectiveness that these platforms boast, this could have a huge influence in the September 19th election.

So what can we take from this?  One amazing advert is not going to change perceptions of customers or potential customers. You need to use what you know about people to deliver the right message at the right time to the right person at the right stage of the journey. Political parties need to inspire brands to think about how they run campaigns and use data to inform their creative. Companies who sell products have the advantage of being able to track conversions in real time. Political parties have to wait until the election to find out if they bets paid off. So really, what are brands waiting for?

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