Off the back of COVID, the Russian invasion of Ukraine, QLD floods, NSW floods, ‘The King Of Spin’ laying to rest… the start of 2022 has the makings of an eventful year and not for good reasons. But there is another event that we must remind ourselves of; the upcoming Federal Election.
Election day will fall on a Saturday between now and the end of May. According to the AEC, a record number (96%) of Australians are currently enrolled to vote, making this an influential election year.
Without turning this into a political debate, there is a lot of interest in this election. There has been much on the political agenda the past 3 years. Whether you’re a fan of Scott Morrison or not the government has been scrutinized and marked on many issues that affect everyday Australians. It’s the people of Australia’s turn now to set the agenda and have influence over who they see leading in 2022 and beyond.
Several industries are affected by an election with media being a major one.
Once an election is called the media landscape is taken over by political messaging for parties to convey their promises and hopes for a brighter future. It also becomes a battleground for parties to voice their concerns and highlight the actions of the opposing parties.
Whether it’s good or bad messaging coming from the political parties it raises questions of whether there is any effect on brands during this time when they are running alongside political ads? Is messaging lost or less effective? Can brands even cut through during this time?
To answer this question, I believe you must interrogate several areas:
- Is your brand trying to be emotional or rational?
- Are there any themes or issues relevant to your brand and the election?
- The time your brand has been in market and its effectiveness pre-election
I will caveat that the content in this piece, whilst supported by research and science, is theoretical as it applies to an election. As there is little, if not any, research that investigates these issues, especially in the Australian market.
The type of messaging your brand is running can matter - emotional vs rational messaging
Where we have an emotional piece of communications that’s aim is to create a cognitive connection between the brand and consumer, the context in which the ad is seen appearing can impact the effectiveness of creating that connection.
This is strongly the case when it comes to elections as the media landscape, especially on TV, can become quite negative and hostile. In the USA an extensive study was conducted looking at the effect ‘negative political advertising’ can have on emotionally led brand ads that run next to these ads.
When the brand ad ran after a political ad – even one with a positive message – it was perceived as 32% less relevant, 29% less entertaining and 27% less appealing (Michael Sankey and Ken Roberts, Warc.com November 2017). They also looked at brands who had an ad with negative emotions run prior to the brand with positive emotions and the results were much the same - so it’s not a case that’s only applicable to political ads; brands can be negative as well.
The below graph shows results of the study conducted looking at the impact of ‘exposed to political ads’ vs ‘control non exposed ads’.
This study was conducted in the USA, which clearly is a very different political environment, arguably more hostile and polarizing, which is likely to heighten the emotional response of viewers.
In Australia we don’t really see the same hostility in political advertising; it's largely more annoying, more back and forth between parties and bickering. The research is interesting nonetheless and clearly shows how negative ads can affect the human brain.
Where we have a more rational or ‘product’ focused communication, the risk of negative political advertising running next to or near our advertising will have less impact on our brands advertising. This is because when people are given rational or more product focused messaging their brains will act differently compared to when they receive more emotive, association driving communications.
When a brand advertises a product with specific, rational information our brains will process this in a way that requires less implicit memory to be generated. The focus will become more on specific information rather than a deeper, cognitive connection. Which is less likely to be affected by any external negative stimulus.
Context can create unfavourable links with your brand
In addition to the nature of your messaging, it’s also of course important to recognize any links between your brand and hot political potatoes.
If you know your brand has had some affiliation or history with the current election i.e., maybe you’re affiliated with coal mining, it’s essential to recognize that climate change and renewables are high on the agenda this year. In this case it’s best to avoid any messaging or advertising that can generate unfavourable context towards your brand.
The performance of your current campaign and the time it’s been in market can also be a determining factor
The amount of time an ad/message has been in market can also greatly affect the impact political advertising can have on the effectiveness of that ad. This is due to the time it takes for advertising to build or resonate over time. We call this ‘Wear-in’. It is the period when advertising impact, per unit of input, is increasing just after the first release or airing of an ad and just prior to the ad reaching its maximum sales response or impact.
For example, if Brand A was communicating a new product and between the 4th week and 6th week being on air saw an exponential increase in sales volume for that specific product then you can say that that ad had sufficient time between weeks 4 and 6 in ‘wearing in’.
It is important to note that the point in which an ad wears in is not the point in which the ad should be stopped as one of the most well-known and regarded principles of effectiveness for advertisers is to be salient. And this is only achieved through continuing to build and refresh memory structures over time i.e. always be remembered to always be bought.
The figure below on the left shows a standard media sales response to advertising over time and on the right the constant GRPs (Gross rating point) flighted over the same period. You see that whilst GRPs are constant – media sales response varies.
What the concept of ‘wear in’ does is it allows us to identify a point in which a given ad/creative is starting to work hardest or deliver positive results for the brand. Therefore, in certain circumstances (like an election) where we know the media landscape will change and become less favourable for some, a theory such as ‘wear in’ can be used to make decisions on what creatives or messages we can have in market during this time.
It’s my own POV that any brand that has had enough time in market with a given message or creative and has seen positive business results, whether that be sales or brand metrics will be less at risk of being impacted by political advertising or any disruptive period in general.
This is greatly relevant when it comes to building memory structures or cognitive connections, like how we talked before about emotional vs rational messaging. If the connection has already been established, then viewers are less likely to lose that connection.
If you are a new brand or an existing brand that wants to launch a new emotive brand ad during this election, I think it’s wise to weigh up the impact this may have on your first few weeks. Competing with negative emotions and messages when you are trying to establish new positive messages for your brand can be challenging.
Whilst researching and writing this piece I was very surprised to see how little research and knowledge there is on this subject. Especially in the Australian market. Like in the U.S.A. it would be great to see some research studies conducted that measure or evaluate the effect of the election period on brands and the media landscape in general. That way brands can have some clear learnings to apply, and they can understand the business effects (if any).