Marketing Lessons from the U.S. Election

Depending on how you voted, you’re either cheering this week or you’re doing your best to cope with the nation’s choice for President of the United States.  But whatever your political leanings, there are several important takeaways from this election cycle that we can apply to our own campaigns.  Let’s share some learning in the least partisan manner we can muster:

Emotional Beings

Humans aspire to make major decisions based on weighing facts and acting accordingly.  The election should have, for most of us, shown that Americans make decisions emotionally, and then weigh facts according to how well they fit with our presuppositions.

In advertising, we’ve known this to be true for quite some time.  It’s why we see TV commercials for cars that evoke certain emotions and feelings, rather than spec-driven comparisons of horsepower, torque and top speed.

Some of the political advertising we’ve seen is geared toward appealing to emotion, but the large majority of it tends to center on voting records, headlines and other factoids, which are hurtled at the likely voter in rapid succession over 30 seconds.

The problem with political advertising is that voters tend to make up their minds early, and the introduction of new facts into the situation will be met with either outright acceptance or instantaneous dismissal, depending on how they fit the narrative of the voter’s decision.  In short, you may be holding the unassailable evidence in your hand, but it may do you no good as a political advertiser.

Memes Rule

As entrenched fans of the two presidential candidates traded barbs on social media, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and others yearned for a method for conveying a simple point concisely, quickly and visually.  Photo memes were able to fulfill that role rather well.

How many times did you see a social media friend type out a long diatribe, only for it to be answered with a sentence or two of text on

top of a picture like this?

It’s one of hundreds of photo memes available for captioning on sites like  This one, though based on Gene Wilder’s Willy Wonka character in “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” conveys condescension.

Encapsulating ideas and feelings in short visuals helped people express their ideas efficiently and effectively.  For many regular folks engaged in political discussions on their social media feeds, these memes were readily available for plucking from sites like Reddit and 4chan, and are ideal for being shared and amplified in social media.  In short, the meme is the new sound bite.

Outshouting a Competitor in TV Does Not Equate to a Win

When looking at our own media plans, we tend to measure their weight against that of the competition.  We tend to think of relative TV weight as an indicator of how much market share we can potentially capture, and many consumer product categories are characterized by top competitors trying to out-shout one another on TV.  In this election cycle, we saw one presidential candidate outspend the other on TV ads by an order of magnitude, and it did not translate to a win.

Some political pundits argue that the message contained in the TV ads actually defined the candidate according to the rival candidate’s terms.  But the point is this – qualitative matters as much as quantitative when it comes to the message.  If you’re off-message, all the media weight in the world won’t help you.

Deep lessons will be learned from this election, and I don’t think we’ll stop talking about it anytime soon.  For many of us, the political lessons are rightfully our biggest takeaways, but there are a lot of lessons to be learned about communication here.  Many of those lessons can be applied in our advertising lives.