Don’t Tell ‘Em Too Much

Notice anything about these two campaign signs by competing candidates?

campaign sign

Notice anything missing? Like, everything?

They both tell you virtually nothing. Name and office sought, nothing more. Not a word about their legislative priorities and no indication of political party.

This is typical in campaign signs. Two years ago, among the dozens of candidate signs that I saw around the Midcoast for local, state and national offices, just one indicated the candidate’s political party. That was Eliot Cutler, the gubernatorial candidate whose affiliation was proudly stated as “Independent.”

Obviously, candidates for political office don’t want to clutter your mind with picayune details like “Republican” and “Democrat,” much less brief position statements (For the Working Man; Keeping America Strong) Campaign signs have only one purpose: to make people extremely familiar with the candidate’s name. So that when Joe Voter enters the booth (You know Joe: he’s the only voter candidates care about: the undecided voter who thinks he’s performing a civic duty, even though he doesn’t understand squat about politics or policy.) he votes for the name he recognizes, or for the one whose negative attributes he remembers less clearly than the other guy’s. Political parties? Unaffiliated voters view both of them as negatives, so leave it out.

It’s a despicable approach to democracy, but elections aren’t much about democracy in the USA anymore: they’re all about marketing and which side can afford more of it. (Thanks, Supreme Court!) And the smart money says you don’t want to give the rubes too much information.

That’s sound policy for a lot of nonpolitical marketing too. Few ads or other marketing vehicles should talk price, unless price is your unassailable Unique Selling Proposition. It’s too easy for consumers to compare, and all money is money that people would rather not spend, so best not talk about it. Don’t want to field email inquiries? Don’t push your email address. Is your business one of those “rent-to-own” operations? Highlight the “own” part and never mind that pesky “rent” thing.

Make the message as simple as possible. Focus on just one positive attribute that appeals to the consumer or solves his problem. In many cases, the only other thing you need is a call to action (CTA): i.e., tell the consumer explicitly what you want him to do: buy, call, visit, click, “like,” “share,” or whatever.

And even a CTA is superfluous sometimes. Campaign signs don’t use it because until the polls open, the consumer can’t take action. They’re all about familiarity. That principle applies to many national brands too — think fast food and sugary fizzy beverages especially. Many of those ads don’t try to make you buy right now. They just want to fill a certain part of your brain so that they’re the first thing you think of when you’re hungry or thirsty.