Election 2008 vs. 1808

Sunday, Nov 2 2008

How vastly different is the election of 1808 vs. that of 2008 when it comes to communication strategy? You decide. With so much being made about how “new” tactics for getting out the vote and distributing messages for one party or another is being used today and how these “innovative strategies” for speaking to potential voters has evolved, I decided to take a very unscientific and admittedly very shallow look at how different things are.

It was James Madison vs. Charles Cotesworth Pinckney in 1808 (everyone remembers that epic battle right?). One party was called the Democratic-Republicans (look it up) and the other was Federalist. The names may have changed but did they really wage a marketing campaign that much different from what we see today?

Today we have branded (party/candidate sites/blogs) efforts and “unbranded” efforts( issue-based and “independent association” sites). In 1808 there were pro-Madison and pro-Pinckney flyers and op-ed pieces in newspapers and you had “anonymous” advertisements posing as articles in newspapers and flyers distributed around town outlining what was wrong with one or the other candidate’s policies. They were printed in newspapers and posted in store-fronts and on community message boards in the town square. Today messages are printed in newspapers, posted in store-fronts (and lawns) and on community message boards (which just happen to be on line). (Hmmm.) Then they had town meetings where anyone who was in walking or horse-riding distance could attend. Today we have town meetings where anyone with a radio, TV or internet access can attend. (Hmmm) Today, if you are looking for friendly help from the media, you go to the friendly media outlet. Then if you didn’t like what was printed in the paper you either had your supporters buy the paper or start your own – either way you got what you wanted out to the public in “unbiased” fashion. See, it’s all very, very different.

So what does this mean, why does this matter? The old adage is that those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it. Well I think that’s only half the story. (This is not a political statement no matter how much you want to make it one – it’s about marketing). From a marketing standpoint we’re always using and trying to improve upon what has worked in the past and discarding or taking notes on the things that have not worked. In order to make solid marketing strategies from yesterday work today, you have to know how to apply them today. You cannot apply them effectively today if you have no idea what tools and techniques are available to you. More specifically, how your audience is using or will use and interact with these tools. You have to have an education on both what has worked in the past and what is available today - and maybe most importantly how it works. The collision of those things is where innovation and great ideas come from. To me it doesn’t matter whether you’re marketing a political message or tennis shoes, the principles are the same. You need to break through all the noise. Sometimes the breakthrough marketing technique or idea makes all the difference. In some cases the quality of the product becomes secondary – sad but true.

If you think Madison would not have had a MySpace page or Pinckey would not have figured out how to use YouTube, think again. The more important question is whether you would have – or will.

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