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What Political Campaign Blunders Can Teach Us about Print Advertising

By Jenna Bruce on Tue, Aug 04, 2015 @ 08:54 AM |


Well, another presidential election year is upon us and that means presidential candidate hopefuls are pulling out all the stops to raise billions of dollars for smear campaigns while shaking hands and kissing babies across this great land of ours. Though watching this political circus can be, at times, disheartening, it can also be quite enjoyable, like when politicians make some fairly incredible blunders that seem almost too good (or bad) to be possible. And, once a big blunder is made, it’s generally hard to recover from it, as history has shown us.

The good news for us is, some of the biggest political campaign blunders in history can teach us an awful lot about running a successful print ad campaign.

Dan Quayle and the Extra “E”What Political Campaign Blunders Can Teach Us about Print Advertising

This has got to be one of the biggest campaign blunders in all of political history. In1992, when running for re-election, Bush again tapped Dan Quayle to be vice president, even though there were rumors Bush was advised to replace him. Perhaps Bush should have listened because while visiting an elementary school in New Jersey for a photo op, Quayle watched as a young boy was asked to write the word “potato” up on the blackboard. After the student finished, Quayle hinted that he had forgotten one letter and urged the kid to add an “E” at the end of the word. Confused, the boy complied and added the “E” and Quayle said, “There you go!” The Bush team lost re-election.

Print Ad Campaign Lesson: Don’t Add What Doesn’t Belong

Never add too much to your print ad or it will become busy and overwhelm the reader who will quickly skip over it to the next. Keep your ad simple and clean and make sure to include enough white space. Also, stick to one font so your ad looks professional.

John Kerry’s Flip Flop

During a town hall meeting, Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry came under attack for changing his mind on important issues. He decided to explain why he changed his mind on an important funding bill by announcing, “I actually did vote for the $87 billion, before I voted against it.” Ummmmmmm. In the end, that single sentence is what kept many swing voters from voting for Kerry and why he became known as a big flip-flopper. Though he came darn close, Kerry was unable to unseat President George W. Bush.

Print Ad Campaign Lesson: Be Sure You’re Clear on Your Campaign’s Objective

You don’t want to find yourself three weeks into a campaign with thousands of dollars spent only to discover you’ve changed your mind about what the ad should say and do. Before even getting to the creative stages of developing an effective ad, decide the ad’s objective – promoting a sale, offering a coupon, announcing a new location, etc. Only when you know the ad’s objective should you begin thinking about creative.

What Political Campaign Blunders Can Teach Us about Print AdvertisingSarah Palin vs. Katie Couric

In 2008, presidential candidate John McCain announced he had selected Alaskan governor Sarah Palin as his running mate. Palin was only the second woman ever to run for vice president (Geraldine Ferraro was first to run in 1984) and instantly charmed the media. McCain soon took a lead in the polls and all seemed like he might actually stand a chance at beating President Obama.

And then Palin agreed to a one-on-one interview with Katie Couric. It soon became very clear that Palin had not prepared enough, or at all, for this interview as her answers all came across as rote. She also couldn’t name one single newspaper or magazine that she read and instead said, “All of ‘em. Any of ‘em.”

Print Ad Campaign Lesson: Do Your Homework

Unless you do your homework and know exactly who your target audience is, what their pain points are, and how your offer can solve their problem, your campaigns will never be successful.

Howard Dean and the Scream

In 2004, governor of Vermont, Howard Dean, became an unexpected candidate for the Democratic nomination for president. He quickly rose in the polls with his promise of reclaiming the “Democratic wing of the Democratic Party” and to end the war in Iraq immediately. In no time Dean became the one to beat and there was talk that he might beat Bush.

And then “it” happened. During the Iowa caucuses, as Dean was addressing a large crowd at his headquarters, he was forced to shout over all of the noise. He very loudly and enthusiastically declared, “Not only are we going to New Hampshire…we’re going to South Carolina and Oklahoma and Arizona and North Dakota and New Mexico, and we’re going to California and Texas and New York…. And we’re going to South Dakota and Oregon and Washington and Michigan, and then we’re going to Washington, D.C., to take back the White House!” Then he let out a sort of crazy scream. While he was most likely just excited and trying to be heard above the din, and he was the only one mic’d, he still came across as certifiably nuts. His campaign never recovered.

Print Ad Campaign Lesson: Remain Calm

Advertising is a marathon not a sprint and you’ll have to stay levelheaded and calm before you start to see results and a return on your investment. This is important to know going into your campaign. We have seen many advertisers panic and change courses before their ad even had a chance. You also need to remain calm when testing new channels that may not present themselves as valuable immediately.

Al Gore’s Claim He Invented the InternetWhat Political Campaign Blunders Can Teach Us about Print Advertising

Vice President Al Gore was in a head-to-head race against former New Jersey Senator Bill Bradley when he sat down with CNN’s Wolf Blitzer. When asked to list his qualifications for president, Gore boasted, “During my service in the United States Congress, I took the initiative in creating the Internet.” Well, now, let’s take a look at that statement…. Yes, Gore was indeed an early proponent of the Internet but the creator? No. This bold and inaccurate statement damaged his campaign and labeled Gore as a serial exaggerator.

Print Ad Campaign Lesson: Don’t Make Claims You Can’t Back Up

Never use your advertising to trick readers into thinking you’re offering something you’re not. Be transparent and honest, always, and never exaggerate. For instance, if you won an award a few years ago for exceptional customer service, you can say that, but don’t claim you’ve won this award for the past five years in a row.

Print advertising is not very different from political advertising when you think about it. You can either manage your ad campaign toward victory, or make a big blunder that you may not recover from.

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Image credit: "Al Gore at SapphireNow 2010" by Tom Raftery is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0"Sarah Palin" by Gage Skidmore is licensed under CC BY 3.0

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