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Two speakers in front of crowd at a presidential debate

Political campaigning has been a staple of the American presidential process since the beginning of our democracy. Advertising in politics, however, is like conventional advertising on steroids. Candidates spend hundreds of millions of dollars every four years to hammer their message into the minds of the American people to ultimately win their vote. It’s not uncommon for American political campaigns to take negative approaches that openly attack competing candidates; a strategy that is far less accepted in commercial advertising. This year’s candidates, Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump, have proved particularly controversial, and not surprisingly, have been campaigning uber-aggressively.
Even though the end goal of a political campaign is fundamentally the same as any other advertising campaign, the strategy and implementation are vastly different. Are the enormous budgets and cutthroat messaging effective? And more importantly, are they ethical?
According to the Washington Post, nearly $900 million was spent on TV advertising alone for the 2012 presidential race, and 2016 figures are expected to top those of 2012. We know that as various digital media channels become more dominant, the effectiveness of TV advertisements (which is where a large sum of political ads are placed) could be declining. In August of last year, National Public Radio (NPR) published an article stating that TV advertisements reach up to 87% of American adults over 18. But does that hold true today? According to other research, 42% of viewers tune out political ads on television and only 25% use TV commercials as a source of political news. The fact of the matter is that I could rattle off statistics all day long and still not come to a conclusive answer. Do political ads work? Are they worth the money? The answer is unclear.
Regardless of the effectiveness of political advertising and campaigning, the ethics behind them are probably what’s more important. Is it ethical for Donald Trump to repeatedly refer to Hillary Clinton as “Crooked Hillary?” Is it ethical for Hillary Clinton to suggest Donald Trump has ties to white supremacy groups like the KKK? Standard moral guidelines would probably say no, so why is it common practice in American politics? According to the Huffington Post, “voters tend to be risk-averse and prefer candidates who are perceived to have fewer negative attributes. It is much easier for a candidate to create doubts about his opponent than it is for him to prove his own self-worth.” Negative campaigning is believed to be effective because most Americans have little knowledge of politics, and the uninformed are more easily influenced.
Negative advertising in itself is not inherently unethical (think about the Apple vs. Macintosh commercials), but it seems lines are sometimes crossed during election season. As an advertiser, you may be tempted to hop on the presidential bandwagon with your marketing; social media, specifically. There are tons of new memes, gifs, and other political media produced every day (some of which are hilarious regardless of your political affiliation), but it’s best to leave your brand out of the political debate completely. Bottom line, you WILL offend someone if you market your business in a partial way, and inevitably harm your brand image. Rule of thumb- your business should take a neutral political standpoint, or better yet, no standpoint at all.


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Being a marketing professional is pretty awesome, and part of the awesomeness is that we’ve got endless options. There really is a place for everyone in the marketing world−from graphic design to creative strategy to analytics. And what’s more is that we have the choice to do our marketing thing in various settings. That’s right, it’s the great agency-versus in-house debate. Some may never seal their destiny in one or the other, and some find their niche in the baby stages of their career. Regardless, it’s important to understand the differences between agency and in-house to fully understand the paradox that is marketing.

Some companies have their own internal marketing department. This is the in-house sector of the business, and like anything, it has its pros and cons. Working in an in-house setting allows an employee to get to know the company’s product or service on an intimate level. In-house marketing professionals work in depth on projects specific to their brand and gain expertise on what works and what doesn’t for that specific product. Days in an in-house marketing department tend to be more predictable and less hectic.

The agency side of marketing appeals more to the crazy folks who drink too much coffee and don’t sleep (kidding, but not really). Marketing agencies take on a variety of clients and formulate big ideas for campaigns and strategy. Agency people generally have an understanding of brands that is more general than in-house marketers, but they tend to have broader insights and creative ideas. Working in an agency may be more stressful than in an in-house department, but the fast pace forces a different mode of thinking and provides invaluable experience in the industry.

Agencies and in-house teams, however, are not in entirely separate wheelhouses. In fact, agencies and in-house departments often work together or form partnerships. Each entity brings something to the table that the other doesn’t, and together, they can produce comprehensive, money-makin’, out-of-this-world campaigns.

Transformation Marketing is a full-service agency that welcomes clients of all kinds. We know construction, we know accounting firms, and we know just about everything else, too. Let us work with your in-house department or tackle your marketing strategy by ourselves to create an eye-catching campaign and take your company to the next level!

  • Axe Men’s Grooming Products– Axe is known for overpowering body sprays cherished by 14 year-old boys and promoted by chiseled, sweaty, hunky men. This year, Axe tossed the cliché “man’s man” persona and launched its Find Your Magic campaign that features a more realistic portrayal of what men today are. Axe released a 60-second video that features men doing things atypical of a traditional ‘masculine’ man, i.e. dancing in high heels, nerding out to books in a library, opening the door for a woman (gasp), etc. It’s smart for Axe to adopt a more inclusive idea of what it means to be a man, as society has become increasingly more accepting of all different types of people. Lucky? Very.
  • Nationwide Insurance– During the 2015 Superbowl, a Nationwide commercial centered around child death aired to millions. The commercial featured a child about seven years old talking about life milestones he’ll never get to experience…because he’s dead. Nationwide released a statement saying the commercial was more of a PSA than anything; that most child deaths are caused by preventable household injuries. Regardless, the commercial upset many viewers and was very uncomfortable to watch. I’m going to mark this one as lame (actually morbid and disturbing may be a better way to classify it).
  • Android– Personally, I’m not huge fan of animated shorts, but Android’s “Rock, Paper, Scissors” commercial that aired during the 2016 Academy Awards left me with a warm, fuzzy feeling. The commercial depicts animated characters (rock, paper, and scissors) being bullied by others of their own kind. The three come together to form an alliance and protect one another from the bullies, all while the theme from St. Elmo’s Fire plays in the background. The commercial is cute, but also emotional. It serves a dual purpose in that it acts as an anti-bullying PSA and also a representation of Android’s positioning statement, “Be together. Not the same.” This one gets a Lucky vote from me.

Storytelling – noun. 1. the sharing of events with words, images, sounds, and/or experiences.

People want stories, not advertisements. We want to laugh, cry, and most of all, connect with things and other people. Good marketing is not just a billboard or a TV commercial, it’s a story that forces us to feel something.

Storytelling in marketing is different than storytelling in the traditional sense. It’s not a mother reading her child a book before bed, but captivating an audience with a message in a way that makes them personally relate. The key to storytelling in marketing is condensing a story down to its core and trimming the fat, so to say. Every company, brand, and even individual has something to say, and as consumers, we choose to ignore the vast majority of these messages. The stories we choose to interact with are short (and can be followed up on via social media, etc.), easily accessible, convenient, and most importantly, evoke some sort of emotion. We all work hard every day to provide for ourselves and for our families, and the last thing we want to do is put in effort to hear your story. Good marketing tells a story that catches the attention of viewers and compels them to listen.

The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) is a good example of how an organization can tell a story to motivate consumers to act in a certain way. I’m sure you’ve seen the ASPCA’s commercial that exploits abused animals to the tune of Sarah McLachlan’s “Arms of An Angel.” The commercial tells a story: animals that have been abused and neglected are rescued by the ASPCA, nurtured back to health, and go on to live happy, healthy lives. It’s heartbreaking to watch, but seeing the animals receive a second chance at life overwhelms the viewer with relief and even joy. The commercial asks the viewer to donate to help save these animals, and it’s hard not to do so after making a connection with the content. Since the commercial aired in 2008, the ASPCA has raised well over a $100 million in donations.

At Transformation Marketing, we’re not only marketers, we’re storytellers. Our team knows how to captivate your audience in a way that resonates with them. Give us a call for a good laugh or cry and a successful marketing campaign!