Elections and brands: gimmick or gold mine

Last week I wrote an article for BBDO KNOWS, a planning resource for the BBDO network, which I’m reproducing here with their permission.  BBDO KNOWS offers thinking, strategy, insights and inspiration on key categories, key themes and consumer segments. If you are interested in learning more about the way BBDO thinks please contact Melanie Norris, Global Planning Director, norrism@bbdoknows.com.

This week saw the US head to the polls to choose their next president and, as ever, there were plenty of brands trying to get a share of the attention.

Given the dwindling number of universal moments in culture, it’s unsurprising. For brands that would struggle to authentically associate themselves with Back-to-School or Halloween, the US Presidential election provides an alternative opportunity for a pre-Christmas communications push.

Here we look at three tactics that brands have used to get involved in the election, and who has done it well.


The most common tactic used by brands trying to associate themselves with an election is the ‘Newsjack’. A Newsjack refers to the practice of a brand anticipating a story that journalists will already be writing and creating a piece of content that will fit seamlessly into the story.

The run up to the election day will always see vast numbers of articles on the theme of “America is going election-crazy”, and this year has proved no different; these stories look at the unusual, extreme and hilarious things that people, neighbourhoods and (crucially, for PR purposes) brands are doing to celebrate the festival of democracy that is polling day.

It’s the one time of year where an Italian restaurant has a chance of generating earned media by emailing a picture editor a photo of a pizza that’s looks like a politician.

A Newsjack tends to generate the most short-lived type of fame, but given the relatively small amount of effort that is required on the part of brands to achieve it, it can often pass the cost-benefit analysis required to run the campaign.


Similar to a Newsjack, but requiring greater effort, is the election-related sales promotion. An example of this is 7-Eleven’s 7Election campaign where they offered customers ordering an XL Stay-Hot drink a choice between a red and blue cup to represent Trump or Clinton. These were then tallied and used to predict the result of the election.

The ambition behind a sales promotion like this is simply to increase the relevance of a product during this highly debated period, and (hopefully) give a spike to trade.

Election-related sales promotions however rarely have any effect on market share, as they tend to bring in people who were already in the market for a product and any spike begins to decay when the polls close and the time-limited promotion concludes.


The election-related activity that will arguably do most for a brand’s longer term market share is the sort which is targeted at the majority of the population (buyers and non-buyers alike), using mass media, which conveys a message in an emotional way.

This is very hard to do around an election. Emotions relating to politics are fairly volatile (to put it lightly) and any brand trying to take advantage of, or capitalise on these feelings, runs the risk of alienating or upsetting large numbers of people.

However, one brand who has managed to get it right this year is Audi, the automotive manufacturer, who premiered a spot – ‘Duel’ – during the first live televised debate. It showed a man and woman seemingly fighting to the death over something relating to the Presidential election.

It delivered a message about the desirability of the RS7 in a high-octane, awe-inspiring, adrenaline-pumping way that took emotions the audience would have already been feeling about the election and channeled them into the Audi brand. By hijacking the conversation already happening around the debate, Audi was able to generate earned media without alienating either side.


Whether you want a quick blast of publicity, a spike in sales or an increase in long-term brand value, there are ways of achieving it around election time. And, given that major elections are as certain to capture the nation’s imagination as holiday seasons and Super Bowls, it is worth brands thinking about how they could take advantage the next time the country heads to the polls.

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