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Citizen Thinks October 7, 2015

Election Year: If You Can’t Beat ‘em, Join ‘em

Election Year: If You Can’t Beat ‘em, Join ‘em

Let’s put down the Primary candidate battering rams for a second and think about the opportunity this Election Year holds for us PR pros. The next 12+ months will be largely wall-to-wall election coverage, so how do you keep your brands or clients’ brands in the news cycle in a positive way with the abounding political coverage.

When communications pros plan for their clients, they always look to plan for both the expected and unexpected. There is art and science in crafting approaches that are relevant, responsible and rewarding in both proactive and reactive programming. Nailing the reactive work can be thrilling, but when the team has predicted what will be leading conversation and your brand is sitting ready to be part of it authentically, well that’s magical.

Elections and politics are dicey subject matter, for sure. Working a brand message into that fray is not for the faint of heart. There are very few corporate or consumer brands that would ever overtly align with one party or one candidate over another. Sure, they may have vested political or public affairs interests and positions, but choosing a side publicly would be market-share suicide. Brands need to appear non-partisan in nearly every way.

Over the years, several brands have stepped up nicely to the election-year coverage. These brands have deftly entered the fray by not supporting a candidate but instead hitching a ride on the race.

The 7-Eleven brand has played in the election in years past. In a nod to straw-polling, 7-Eleven counted their consumers’ selections of red or blue cups at the Slurpee machine. Other brands that have played well in news-cycle conversations have been Tide, Oreo, Duracell and of course the irreverent fast food chains Taco Bell and Jack In the Box.

A clever program Citizen created years ago captured the minds and arm-pits of the press corps on the arduous campaign trail. We leveraged that group of hard working journalists to help launch Dockers sweat-protection technology garments. Cleverly themed “Don’t Sweat the Election,” the effort leveraged iconic images of candidates sweating during stump speeches and appearances. Nixon and his ill-fated debate against JFK during the first televised debate in history and George W. Bush from his campaign trail are just two examples of how heated the campaign trail can get. Dockers announced it was the “Unofficial Sponsor” of that year’s elections and seeded clothing (and product messaging) to the press corps to help keep them dry during their campaign coverage. It worked; the effort got Dockers out of retail trades and pages and right into the mainstream of national publicity and conversation.

GBush          President

Not every brand will have the head, heart or the stomach to make a program work during an election year. But in this era of always-on, consumer-powered conversation, I firmly believe more brands should at least give it a try. Why let all that conversation and media coverage fly over without trying to be a small, funny, poignant, irreverent or even provocative part of it?

My message to clients: Don’t let this campaign year – full of opportunities — pass you by, or worse, don’t let your competitors beat you to this conversation.

My message to agencies:  Consider this your brief.

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