Instant lose: when politicians do sales promotion

Instant lose: when politicians do sales promotion

With offers of more Bank Holidays and free hospital parking you might think politicians had unearthed a marketing handbook from the 90s, writes Martin Smith.

It’s election time and it seems our political leaders are indulging in a little sales promotion.

With four extra Bank Holidays, free home insulation, and free cash for nurses, you’d be forgiven for thinking they’d unearthed a direct marketing handbook from 1992.

The offer of 10,000 extra police officers, along with "questionable" funding, brings to mind the days of Free Flights for a Hoover.

Perhaps Corbyn, May and co are wary of recent big vote "surprises", and who could blame them? But it feels a little blunt. We’re not sure how effective this approach will be, what it may mean for voter satisfaction, and even (ahem), brand integrity.

So, here are three tips on how to avoid the Great Election bogof.

See voting as a journey

While seductive on one level, political special offers are a bit like using a sledgehammer to crack a nut.

A vote, just like any decision, is the result of a messy meander of influence. And while it’s tempting to shoot for the big idea, it would be so much more powerful to delve into how each voter’s opinion shifts between, for example, the social conversation around Gogglebox, the too-long wait in A&E and the friend’s surprising point of view.

So, when it comes to opinion polling, we’d suggest our leaders go deeper than the pulse of the nation. It would be much more useful to understand the complex web of voter steps and mindsets, barriers to overcome and triggers to pull.

Find pivotal moments that change behaviour

Hidden in each voter's journey will be a powerful make-or-break moment that ends the debate – a pivotal moment that determines our behaviour when we’re alone in the booth on polling day.

Let’s face it, at some point Brexit went from being a flight of fancy to a "maybe". From there, it was a short step to "how bad could it be?" And, look what we all woke up to.

It’s a "devil’s in the detail" approach – more great schlep than grand gesture, not least because many people have been conditioned to mistrust a politician’s promise.

Admittedly, the latest "free parking at the hospital" offer does suggest that some analysis has been done into small things that can make a big difference. However, we maintain that there are more ways to people’s hearts than by offering free stuff.

Inspire people to vote well

Many of our decisions are carefully made, executed with certainty and leave us feeling like satisfied customers. When we buy important things like a new car, TV or a pair of shoes, we research, compare, evaluate and select. One might say that we buy well.

Now compare this with voting in a new government. We skim, we flick, we pay attention if it’s funny (which often it is). Then we vote for whomever "feels right" and it’s often the same lot we fancied at the outset – the least worst, or the safest pair of hands.

We defend our choice in the pub, make the commensurate leap of faith in our minds and, at the end of the day, don’t worry too much. Yet, this choice will determine the quality of lives for years to come.

So, our final tip would be this. Enable voters to cut through and compare, so they can be as clear and confident with their vote as they are with their shiny new TV.

Ambitious, perhaps, but we’d suggest that replacing a big promotional offer with a clear, rhetoric-free comparison could go a long way.

Martin Smith is the chief strategy officer at Geometry Global UK.

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