James Boardman
National Strategy Director

Will Sharp, Ritson or Binet & Field win the US election?


The teachings of today’s marketing gurus are playing out in real-time as the race to the White House gets underway. Can mass reach beat out segmentation or will the fight ultimately hinge on brand purpose? Bohemia’s James Boardman breaks it down.


Today’s planners have never had it so good. We’re surrounded by science, data, opinions, expertise and knowledge. But getting those lessons out of the text book and onto the street is often a tricky business. Or is it?


In the US right now, the rules of marketing are being tested in the biggest contest of them all. In case you haven’t noticed, don’t care or can’t bear to watch (delete as appropriate), primary season is upon us. The Democrats are currently involved in a 20-plus-person squabble to figure out who gets to try and dislodge Donald Trump.


As a result, more than 20 individual campaigns are unfolding right in front of our eyes, all after the same goal – highest vote share. And to do so, they’re bringing the marketing rule book to life in real-time.


Forget Putin’s bots, it’s like Mark Ritson, Les Binet & Peter Field and Byron Sharp are the ones fighting it out.


So how are these real-life experiments unfolding in marketing’s very own Game of Thrones?


Get the attention vs. intention equation right….


As with politics, so with brands. You have to earn attention before you can convert intent. Some big brands came with latent attention that’s a legacy of past experience (Joe Biden) whereas other, newer brands have had to earn it. First prize in this area goes to Pete Buttigieg. An unknown mayor from a small town, he’s rocketed into the big leagues by seemingly having read Byron Sharp from cover to cover. He went of his way to appear everywhere, reach everyone, as early as possible. He accepted every invite, he took on every interview and wasn’t afraid to jump onto hostile territory (even getting a standing ovation on Fox). Go big, go hard, be everywhere – before anyone else – seems to be the lesson in launching this particular new brand.


The flip-side to earning attention of course is converting it into intent – getting people to donate, register and ultimately vote. Elizabeth Warren spent almost $3m on Facebook alone in the first six months of this year and Julian Castro spent $600,000 in a week retargeting people who’d watched his debate clips. All of these are eclipsed by the elephant in the room. One Donald J Trump has spent over $13m on Facebook ads so far, with no-end in sight.


Double jeopardy on the campaign trail…


The new upstarts don’t get it all their own way. Another avid scholar of How Brand’s Grow is Joe Biden, former Vice President. He’s taking the opposite tack to Mayor Pete and relying on his “above average market share” to get him across the line. Joe has the largest share of attention and, as Byron forecasts, it’s being fairly resilient, despite the attacks from wannabe contenders. The problem for Joe is that up-and-coming competitors who seem to be over-investing (Elizabeth Warren in particular is taking Binet & Field’s ESOV equation to the max) are eroding his market share. Will he be able to get his attention to convert into intention when the voting starts? Only if Joe keeps investing in acquiring new customers rather than relying on “I was great before….”


Segmentation vs. Mass Reach


So, if Pete and Joe are going for the “everyone, everywhere” strategy, then Bernie is trying the “segment and target” approach. Bernie Sanders – a social democrat from Vermont and runner up last time around – is making a big play for the left wing and politically-engaged-youth segments. He’s betting that this segment is big enough to win a plurality of ‘voting intent’ and get him to the top of the pile. Up to a point, this is working so far. His voters are the most loyal and the least likely to be donating to other candidates (“trialling a repertoire” I suppose). But, he looks like he’s stuck in mid-table and struggling for growth. Mark Ritson would have a field day – the segmentation looks wonky and isn’t big enough to achieve the eventual sales target.


Just how important is brand purpose?


So here’s something to declare… I’m in love with Kamala Harris. I love her mind, I love her shoes (obligatory West Wing reference), and I even own the t-shirt (really). On paper she’s ace. She’s got the right product, the right policies (the right blend of USPs) to appeal to a wide percentage of the potential market etc. What she’s missing though (at the moment) is an overarching narrative, or brand purpose, if you will. She’s missing a rallying cry of why she and she alone should win, expressed in a captivating sentence. To borrow a term from M&C Saatchi, Harris needs a Brutally Simple Thought. If she develops one, she could convert voting intent the best. But how many times have we seen this as marketers? A superior product on paper that lacks the stand-out hook required to make it catch fire? If Harris is to truly be “for the people” she needs some distinctive assets, and fast.


Pete, Joe, Kamala & Bernie, meet Byron, Mark, Les & Peter


For the next 400 days, newsfeeds around the world will be interrupted with the thrills, spills and frustrations of the race for the White House as some of America’s best and brightest try to figure out which marketing guru to worship. Will it be Sharp, Ritson or Binet and Field whose teachings ultimately help them to triumph? Which one wins and how they do it will hold lessons for us all.