The art of crafting compelling and effective messaging is likely to remain a domain in which the best talent will be highly valued. In fact, as the electorate gets segmented into more precise demographic groups and the capacity to target those groups increases, demand for this skill is increasing as campaigns have more segments to which they want to direct custom-tailored messages. If such segmenting becomes more widespread, it is possible we could see a significant increase in the advantage well-financed campaigns have in crafting messaging, since they could afford to pay the best consultants top dollar to develop custom-tailored messages for each demographic slice.
That is a risky practice, however, for any candidate. If candidates are exposed for pandering to different audiences, that could have severe electoral consequences. (A recent winner of the Knight News Challenge, Silent Targeting, Loud Democracy, is “prototyping an investigative service that tracks political ads that use online micro-targeting to reveal how political action committees, parties and candidates target individual voters based on their personal information.”) Moreover, there is concern amongst some that the micro-targeting approach to messaging also fragments the candidate’s message and can undermine her capacity to deliver a strong and coherent narrative.
Traditionally, message crafting has been the domain of “message gurus.” Rigorous methods for assessing what works and what does not are rarely used. This has led to a very high valuation of an elite group of experts who are seen as the best message crafters. (That could be justified; it might not. We just don’t really know.) But the tools for doing quick and effective A/B testing are becoming much cheaper and more accessible. This could help pull the veil back from such work a bit, to ensure the field is more meritocratic.
The conventional tactics for message crafting are predicated on television broadcast distribution. As explored in the Disseminating Media section, that strategy is quickly changing. The new distribution systems also have implications for what types of content will be most effective. If a distribution strategy relies on people sharing the content via social media for example, it requires a different calculus that may sometimes involve appeals to people’s higher ideals, but often involves appeals to their more shallow reactions or even their baser instincts.
In addition, there are new models for producing video advertisements emerging in the commercial sector that are radically cheaper, often much more successful, and conducive to generating online buzz. Consider Tongal, which allows businesses seeking to advertise a product to essentially crowd-source the advertisement’s development through an online competition that breaks the production into its sequential steps with various creatives competing to deliver the best results. Winning bids are compensated at each step, but the overall costs to the business are still a small fraction of what they would be with a traditional ad agency. Major brands such as Banana Republic, Legos, and McDonald’s are already using this platform. Due to the wide range of ideas to choose from, the products are often much more creative. The stakeholders involved develop a deeper engagement with the “product” (with safeguards to protect confidential information), generating a hive of activity that helps create buzz around the final product. The production timeline associated with this process would clash significantly with the fast-paced nature of political advertising today. But the potentially fresh feel of the product along with the built-in network it generates for social media amplification could resonate well with the Millennial generation’s media consumption patterns.
Pursuing crowd-sourced and data-driven tools to craft campaign messaging seems like a very smart and high-potential approach to democratizing this discipline. A lot of what has traditionally been done by “message gurus” could be accomplished by engaging a larger group of people in the right way.
Director, Center for Data Science & Public Policy, University of Chicago
Today, message testing is done in small focus groups – it’s narrow and deep. Yes, social media and A/B testing is making things easier to scale but it’s not clear how the channels allow you to come up with more messages (or even the right messages) to test. Campaigns are typically too scared to test interesting messages at scale so there will always be a limit to how much we’ll see social media and A/B testing used to test very wide variety of messages. It will be interesting to figure out if those tests can be done implicitly (at least a first pass that is cheap) by observing/listening rather than active testing.
Professor of Public Policy, Political Science and Environment, Duke University
New communication technologies and strategies are likely to transform how campaigns are conducted in the future. The challenge is to develop approaches that better reflect citizens’ interests rather than further enabling manipulation of public opinion.
Account Manager, Snapchat / Former Media Associate, Bully Pulpit Interactive
I don’t see crowd-sourced advertising efforts catching on for political campaigns, as most consultants like to maintain a consistent and carefully crafted voice throughout their advertising efforts. Political advertising is very hands-on, and with so much money coming in, campaigns have the advantage to craft many different creative assets to target to specified groups.] While a crowd-sourced ad might occasionally perform well and be utilized, the vast majority of ads will continue to be designed by veteran political operatives and employ A/B testing to see what messaging works best.
CEO, The Workers Lab
The ability to craft unifying narratives about who we are, how we live, and what we aspire to as a country is a critical tool in moving us towards a people powered government and electorate.
Consultant, Clinton Foundation / Consultant, Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Foundation
A more human centered design approach to messaging will likely dominate and make campaigns more People Powered.
All answers: 1 = strongly disagree / 5 = strongly agree
How much do the conventional tactics for achieving this objective influence how reliant campaigns feel on narrow subsets as opposed to broad cross-sections of the electorate?
How much do you think the tactics for achieving this objective are likely to change in the coming decade?
How much opportunity do you see for advancing more People Powered tactics for achieving this objective via each lever?
Increase People Powered ROI
Decrease Conventional ROI