Republican Christian heritage ad: How not to do political marketing

Democrat vs. Republican on whiteThe goal for any marketing campaign is to get attention to whatever it is you’re trying to get attention to, and to prod a specific action as a form of reaction. In that context, let’s look at the ad insert in the News Leader in Staunton from Augusta County Republicans.

“Preserve our Christian Heritage! Vote Republican!” screams the headline on the insert placed in Thursday’s paper.

The Leader wrote a story about the ad, which you could view as a positive, at first glance, in the form of, Hey, we spent x number of dollars on the ad, and we got front-page news coverage as a bonus, so good on is.

But this is where things start to get out of control from the marketing standpoint. The story quoted voters critical of the message tying religion to a particular political party and candidates defending the ad in the context of their personal religious views.

If you subscribe to the dictum that any publicity is good publicity, that you shouldn’t care what people write about you, as long as they spell your name right, you’re OK with a dirty back-and-forth over a campaign ad being aired on the front page of the local paper five days before an election.

Then there’s the law of unintended consequences. The goal was to fire up the base to vote for Republican candidates. The unintended effect here is to fire up everybody else.

Think through this with me for a minute. Augusta County is about as red as any locality in America; the county votes 70 percent-plus for Republicans in statewide elections. The Nov. 3 elections are off-year elections, with nothing up-ticket like a presidential race or governor’s race to get the masses thinking about going out to the polls.

The sexy race on the ballot on Tuesday is a four-candidate sheriff race. There are other contests: for commonwealth’s attorney, and for three House of Delegates seats, with the Republican incumbents in those facing nominal opposition.

Turnout is going to be light, and largely driven by that sheriff race, which is not a partisan race, even with one of the candidates, Derek Almarode, being listed as the Republican nominee.

By and large, Republican voters have been the ones energized, if that’s even the right word, about the upcoming elections.

Now you throw this ad insert into the mix, the intent being to remind Republican voters to remember to vote, but the delivery of the message muddies the waters.

If you’re a Christian Democrat, now you have motivation to go out and vote on Tuesday, to send a message. If you’re an independent agnostic, ditto that.

I don’t expect a flood of Democrats and independents to flock to the polls on Tuesday to throw the local House elections, but I wouldn’t dismiss the possibility that there could be an impact on the sheriff race and the Commonwealth attorney race, both of which, to me, are in the too-close-to-call category.

Back to our definition of marketing from above: an effort to get attention to whatever it is you’re trying to get attention to, and to prod a specific action as a form of reaction.

Attention to the election: check. Specific action in the form of voting for Republican candidates: epic fail.

– Analysis by Chris Graham

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