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What the Ad World Can Learn from Politics?

Tuesday night the APG hosted Alastair Campbell. He did some Brexit bashing, he despaired over Trump, he confirmed our belief that we’re all f***ed. And us planners? we all nodded in perfect synchrony over our Brew Dogs and salami sticks (great addition to snack repertoire, APG).

One thing he said still rings in my ears today. An observation about the way in which our political communications landscape has been fundamentally high-jacked, re-formulated and robbed of its honour. Unsurprisingly, it’s about Trump. And it’s this:

There has been a shift from consistency and singularity of political campaign messages to multiple voices which can appear to contradict each other.

Campbell points to decades of singularity and consistency of political brand campaigns: Labour isn’t working. Tough on crime, tough on the cause of crime. A clear proposition from which to focus messaging, image and behavior. A strategy, if you will.

He contrasts this with the off the cuff, tactical approach of Trump. The Flip-flopper-in chief of the world of alternative facts. Trump has contradicted himself countless times in favor of reactive populist sound bites (the Toronto Star has actually counted and it’s about 1655). Yeah, sure, it limply hangs together under the vague banner of ‘Make America Great Again’ but ask any two Trump supporters what that means and you’ll get a different answer.

And that’s the genius of it. The appealing but vacuous promise that permits selective hearing. Or should I say – selective facebook targeting? A communicator who will tell you what you want to hear in the way you want to hear it so long as you buy it. Even if the person next to you is hearing something different entirely.

Sounds familiar?

At the risk of opening up a can of Byron Sharp, this is precisely the questions clients are asking today. Do we stay consistent and broad – say the same thing everywhere to everyone in one big media splurge. Or do we segment and target and create dynamic messaging, pricing, assets – strategy?

The latter approach worked for Trump in 2016, but at what cost?

It means you give your competitors and detractors leverage - but you are constantly generating air time.

It means dividing your audience – but those who do support you are fierce in their conviction.

It means you’re reactive not proactive – but playing from the back foot permits you to play underdog.

Crucially, It may mean you may only last four years. We know that tactics not strategy can get you over the line, we will have to wait until 2020 to see if it can sustain your brand.

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