Regardless of political leaning or slant, the 2018 Midterm election has garnered massive bipartisan press that has seeped into social media and the marketing campaigns of large companies. Over the past 2 months celebrities and influencers created election day hype and encouraged greater voter participation via social media. This is generally fantastic. Not only is voting socially responsible, but it is now cool, on-trend and with celebrity endorsement. The election related social media buzz has also indirectly led to the question- have you really voted, if you haven’t yet posted an ‘I Voted’ selfie on Instagram?
Selfies aside, I have been the most pleasantly surprised by brands and companies that employed creative marketing means to remind their customer base to hit the polls informed. Brands like Patagonia, Ballet Beautiful, and Snowe used marketing resources that would normally go toward product launches, holiday shopping preparations, and large ad campaigns, and instead put them toward the common good. To be clear, these brands did not use election day ploys to corral people into buying more of their product with discounts and promos to voters. Instead, these brands put serious resources that would normally go toward keeping the office lights on and put it toward creating newsletters, videos, website banners and landing pages aimed at getting people to the polls. Not only did these brands give a cause valuable real estate in their online presence, but they most likely made other sacrifices that would normally go unseen. Based on observation alone, brands had a decrease in social media likes on voting related content and most likely had a decrease in open rates for election-related newsletters and other outflow (it is hard to compete in an email mailbox with other brands starting holiday promos and sales). This would inevitably decrease the valuable KPI metrics the in-house marketing team is no doubt closely monitoring to measure their success and customer resonance. There is also the opportunity cost, or income a company could rely on with their ‘normal’ marketing content aimed at driving sales. Simply put, the election-related investment of these brands is objectively large and goes beyond posting voting selfies.
This begs the question, why would companies do this? Why invest resources in marketing campaigns that will mostly likely not result in an increase in sales and potentially dilute other success-related metrics?
In a word, branding. Over the past 10 years, there has been a palpable shift in consumer behavior. It is no longer enough for brands to make high-quality products and rely on traditional marketing techniques. Consumers support companies and brands that are socially responsible, declare corporate citizenship and actively contribute to the betterment of society. This is not mere theoretical idealism, but a practiced methodology for consumption. According to a Haas Business School study, ‘more than nine in ten millennials would switch brands to one associated with a cause’. In a similar vein, there is arguably no worse branding death than seeing an American brand posting tone-deaf content on September 11:
At the end of the day, the aforementioned voting-related marketing campaigns are equally impressive and important. Some marketers, upon reading this, may question if they can afford to divert resources to these sorts of non-revenue-generating branding campaigns. Based on the data on current consumer behavior and shifts in brand loyalty, I’d argue brands can’t afford not to.