CONSUMERS DON'T CARE!!! (And Other Lessons From the US Elections)

28/11/2012 17:50 GMT | Updated 27/01/2013 10:12 GMT

Now the dust has settled on the US election and Obama is sitting back in the Oval office smoking a 'victory cigar' (actually, I'm pretty sure no president smokes real cigars anymore!) what are the lessons for advertisers?

Well the most staggering statistic of the whole thing was the sheer scale of the campaigns, an eye watering $6 billion has been spent and in a time of global recession and austerity!

The consequence of this spend was that the average US citizen was bombarded with advertising. A lot of marketing jargon takes its origin from the battle field - but this really was an assault on the US population. And the impact of all that money being spent? Well this was probably best summed up by the emotional plea of 4 yr old Abigael Evans from Colorado for "Bronco Bamma and Mitt Romney" to simply stop, which was viewed 16 million times on YouTube.

But rather than just the spend, the reason this was so staggering is that it seemed to be devoid of any insight into how voters make decisions. Over the last few years marketers have spent a lot of time talking about the demise of paid for advertising and that "earned" media is king. So why on the biggest stage of all did both campaign teams bottle it and feel the need to spend record amounts on paid for advertising?

There are undoubtedly a huge number of reasons for this, but there are two reasons that are directly applicable to the humble world of brand marketing.

Firstly, the old adage that "no one ever got fired for putting their brand on TV". There is a wealth of data that shows a relationship between an increase in the total share of advertising spend in a given market (vs competitors) and a corresponding growth of marketshare (see the IPA databank). The problem here is that the data to unpick the impact of earned media on consumer behaviour doesn't exist yet so marketers seem to default to the old ways when it really matters.

Secondly, earned media is more like planning a conversation than a campaign and this presents a more deep routed problem. Consumers simply don't care about brands in the way most advertising agencies think they do. It's a stretch to say consumers love even a brand like Apple, if we are honest they like the products and what they do, they don't feel weak at the knees when they pick up their iPhone 5.

This means that getting consumers to talk about a brand is hard. For earned media to really steal the show, brands need to start from a point where they recognise consumers don't care. This is a good place to start as it takes you on a different journey, one where getting consumers to spend time with a brand is about either providing real utility or creating things that create a cultural ripple.

Creating things that people care enough about to share has always been a challenge, but this doesn't have to be something really big things like Sky diving from the edge of space.

The plethora of new technology start-ups provides an amazing hunting ground for brands to find innovation that offers consumers real value. Both benefit from this potential partnership. The brand can bring scale quickly and these companies can help brands by coming up with innovation that isn't constrained by the briefing process.

A great example of a brands doing this well is Hiscox. They recently launched a "social magazine" app, which pulls in useful content from a wide variety of news sources that are relevant for their small business audience. If successful it will change their relationship with consumers from a once a year conversation about money and insurance, to a year round dialogue that is a really positive experience for both parties.

Conversation is about an exchange - listening and then adding value in response. The key as every great romantics knows is that love is a verb and for brands to have a chance of sending consumers weak at the knees they need to make sure they are doing things that really add value. Hiscox is just one example but there are literally hundreds of innovations out there for brands to tap into and by doing this it is one way for earned media to really take centre stage.