The packaging of a candidate

Story by Chris Graham

If you’re, say, Burger King, or Wendy’s, it’s OK being number two or number three.

And if you’re the advertising agency for one of the burger companies looking up at McDonald’s, your job isn’t to come up with something that knocks off number one or else.

To the contrary, it’s all about protecting your piece of the pie.

Which takes us to the world of political advertising – where second place, to borrow from the sports cliche, means first loser, and third place translates to also-ran.

“In politics, it’s pretty much winner-take-all,” said Bill Hillsman, a Minnesota-based political consultant working this fall with independent gubernatorial candidate Russ Potts.

Hillsman, who made his name designing the political-ad campaigns of the late United States senator Paul Wellstone and former Minnesota governor Jesse Ventura, nonetheless bases his approach to political marketing on the approach taken in the commercial marketing world.

“One of the things that we’ve learned is that if we can successfully segment the marketplace, and successfully target the people who are more likely to vote for our candidate, basically we want to cut out the people that we know won’t vote for our candidate no matter what we do,” Hillsman told The Augusta Free Press.

Commercial marketers do this as a matter of course.

“We don’t want to waste too much money quote solidifying our base, those people that we know are going to vote for us. We want to bring absolutely as many resources to bear as we can on that vote in the middle, the persuadables, the swing votes,” Hillsman said.

This is easier said than done, said David Eichenbaum, the Washington, D.C.,-based media consultant to the Tim Kaine gubernatorial campaign.

“Every campaign has a target audience, but it’s hard to use television to reach a specific target audience,” Eichenbaum told the AFP.

“You can try to target through your ad buys. For example, if you want to reach women with a particular ad, you make buys on programs or stations with more of a female audience,” Eichenbaum said.

“But you have to realize that there’s only so much you can do there. Everybody’s watching,” Eichenbaum said.

Everybody is watching, Hillsman said. The trick is to leave them with something that they will remember and talk about long after the spot that they have seen flashes from the screen.

“It sounds simple, but you have to tailor your message,” Hillsman said.

“There are a lot of businesses that know your best customers are these types of people, and that there’s a certain segment of the audience that you’re never going to convince, no matter how much money you spend. And there’s another segment of the audience that’s always going to buy your product no matter what you do, unless you get rid of the product,” Hillsman said.

“With the crazy amounts of money that are being spent in political advertising, they’re really by and large with television trying to talk to everybody who’s over the age of 18 who’s eligible to vote, which is really a crazy way to go about it,” Hillsman said.

uva basketball team of destiny
Team of Destiny: Inside Virginia Basketball’s Run to the 2019 National Championship, by Jerry Ratcliffe and Chris Graham, is available for $25.


The book, with additional reporting by Zach Pereles, Scott Ratcliffe and Scott German, will take you from the aftermath of the stunning first-round loss to UMBC in 2018, and how coach Tony Bennett and his team used that loss as the source of strength, through to the ACC regular-season championship, the run to the Final Four, and the thrilling overtime win over Texas Tech to win the 2019 national title, the first in school history.
 
augusta free press

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