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Why the 2016 Election Is the Social Media Marketing Nomination

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America is currently witnessing one of the most memorable election seasons in the country’s history. From “yuge” personalities to veteran politicos, there has been no shortage of material for voters to Like, share, argue, discount, or debate publicly with members of their extended family.

As a result, marketers have been given an incredible opportunity to observe massive social movements, creative advertising campaigns, and inventive use of social media marketing collateral. While historically marketers have had to wait for the end of an election cycle to get a peek at the juicy data on civic social engagement (spoiler: people like to be socially active when politics are involved), this election cycle has seen a record spike in ad spending that has us impatiently curious. With an estimated $1 billion being spent on digital marketing—a 5,000 percent increase from the 2012 election season—marketers should be taking notes now.

So what’s that money worth in practicality? And what does it look like in practice?

The Art of Contention and Banter

Traditional American “mudslinging” has a pretty set formula: candidate A says some nasty things about candidate B, candidate B attempts to defend him or herself from the claims through ads or a formal statement, then decides whether or not to sling back at candidate A. The key element here is that the candidates themselves didn’t usually interact directly—ads are served by proxy support groups, or statements are made to the public.

But this is 2016. Candidates have Twitter and rudimentary photoshop ability. The country (especially media companies) couldn’t be happier.

Direct interaction, debate, and accusation has become a regular part of the election mix this year, and it’s resulted in huge attention and engagement for candidates involved. Take for instance the back-and-forth shared between Secretary Clinton and Governor Bush.

From tried and true branding to the birth of a new meme, there

From tried and true branding to the birth of a new meme, there

From tried and true branding to the birth of a new meme, there

With each new addition to the interchange, both candidates picked up increasing amounts of retweets and favorites, and even garnered reporting coverage from third-party sites.

So what’s the takeaway for brands? Well, there’s a distinct risk for brands to engage with the level of vitriol that usually comes with a political climate. However, the advantages of having two brands communicate—ideally, banter—becomes clear. Finding ways to get your brand to playfully interact with other large personalities socially gives you the advantage of improved visibility from a second audience. When done in good will, it can also earn your brand a load of trust through authenticity.

The sweet spot for this kind of interaction lies in finding brands that share a similar audience and tone with your own. Take for example Burger King’s recent proposal to create a “Peace Day Burger” with rival fast food brands for World Peace Day. Although chief rival McDonald’s rejected the extended olive branch, the campaign went on to rack up 8.9 billion impressions, increased awareness of Peace Day by 40 percent, and won a Grandy Award, according to Ad Age.

The closer in competition your two brands are, the more interesting your interaction will be for people to follow, but it may be more difficult to get the conversation going—as with all things in marketing, finding the perfect partners takes balance and testing.

From tried and true branding to the birth of a new meme, there“Dank”-ness

In the old days, Americans had political cartoons. Ranging in approach from the crassness of MAD to the intellectual obscurity of The New Yorker, these cartoons have often been a great way for readers to get a chuckle from seeing their own feelings reflected in ink.

The political cartoon of 2016? Memes.

There is no data on how aware of memes Senator Bernie Sanders was before he began his campaign. But after months on the campaign trail picking up a large following of youth voters, he has become the subject of an entire class of digital content, lovingly referred to as “Dank Bernie Sanders Memes.” Dank memes, according to knowyourmeme.com, are “an ironic expression used to mock online viral media and in-jokes that have exhausted their comedic value to the point of being trite or cliché.” Makes you think of how the anonymous messaging board 4chan’s frog-like mascot “went dank.”

There are a few components of this phenomenon that marketers should note. First, this is almost exclusively user-generated content. The Sanders campaign (as far as we know) is not spending hours on meme generation websites hoping to drive more virality. But secondly, and perhaps more to the point, not all of this content is flattering for the Sanders campaign—but they still encourage it regardless.

It’s not unusual for brands today to come up against strange or “offensive” user-generated content, but how your brand handles it can have far bigger ramifications than the material itself. This isn’t to say that the Sanders campaign hasn’t taken a hit from some of this material—indeed it’s become quite the form for critics and satirists. Finding the sweet spot where your brand is able to continually espouse its ideals while also managing and appeasing your community can be difficult, but this year’s candidates have shown that with some risk frequently comes reward in the form of visibility and loyalty.

“Seeing” the Plan

“Show us your plan.”

“I need to see how this would work.”

“I can’t see that being possible.”

Among the handful of phrases that typify American election seasons, “seeing is believing” should certainly have a top spot. The candidates this year have decided to respond in kind, and the result is that graphic arts students across the US are ecstatic for the opportunity to bring their talents into the political arena.

But candidates aren’t the only ones embracing visual content. Many of the analysts are as well.

Your brand may not be a front-runner. This isn’t to say that it isn’t strong, competitive, or liked, this simply means that some brands’ strength and authority comes from the ability to insightfully observe and critique what’s going on in their industry. If your brand finds itself frequently pushing out research reports, analysis, or other similar material, finding ways to make your material more visual should help to drive interest and sharing.

But the other element of visual content that both candidates and pundits have been taking advantage of is that unlike a sterile report, well-designed infographics give you a new avenue for establishing your brand’s visual story. What colors, typography, or logos define your brand? Are these elements immediately recognizable to your audience? Infographics are a relatively simple way of continually creating engaging visual content that pushes your brand’s aesthetic presence while also communicating strong, actionable insight.

How social media has impacted the 2016 election.

Winning the Race

Unlike past years, there hasn’t been a clear winner when it comes to social media or digital marketing for politics. Mr. Trump technically leads the pack in terms of retweets, engagement, and other similar sharing metrics, but ends up driving more negative interaction than any other candidate. Senator Sanders holds a strong second place for interaction, has his own niche for content, but continues to struggle capturing an audience outside of young Millennials. Secretary Clinton may not have the same numbers or frequency behind her in terms of digital, but her campaign is spearheading ways of forcing other candidates to interact with her online.

All of these methods don’t necessarily add up to one mix. But by understanding the unique place each of these tactics holds, and then observing how they play out on the national scale, marketers will certainly have a chance to find a winning platform for their own social media marketing strategies.

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