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Buying “Undecideds”

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Spending $6 billion on people who can’t make a decision may be wretched excess.

This fall the two political parties will spend about $6 billion on messages aimed, primarily, at a small group of people – undecided voters.

I can’t conceive of being an “undecided” voter – or pretty much of an “undecided” anything.

I am one of those people who may be wrong, monumentally wrong, but who is never in doubt. I can definitely respect your personal or political
preference, as long as you have one. My biggest problems have always been with people – particularly bosses – who waited until the last possible minute to see which way to jump. A word like “trust” never enters into their decision-making.

buying votes 2012 electionBut, that’s just me. There are still people out there who can’t decide whom they will vote for, or if they will vote, at all. I’m sure you might even know some of them. They might even make you as crazy as they make me.

In a weird way this really resonates with me because I know so many people who have spent their professional lives also trying to convert or convince undecideds – buy my product or service; use me; believe in me; try my store, or restaurant, or magazine, or come to my school.

No matter how hard you work, or how many customers you thoroughly satisfy – which is exactly what most successful people in business do every day – you will still be spinning your wheels chasing after the undecideds. And, you will never be able to truly win over those undecideds, at least not for long.

If you look at it from this point-of-view all marketing, including advertising and public relations, is about trying to capture those undecideds. The future of your business, or at least your profits, might depend on the undecideds and in this election the future of the whole country might depend on them.

Who Are the Undecideds?

Elizabeth Kolbert, a blogger with The New Yorker magazine, tried to come up with a good estimate of how many people this “undecided” label really includes.

The best person she went to was former Bill Clinton adviser Paul Begala, who pops up quite a bit as a talking head on cable news. This is what Begala had to say recently in Newsweek:

“When you factor out the undecideds in securely red or blue states (since their votes won’t change the Electoral College results), the election comes down to “‘around 4 percent of the voters in six states.’

“‘I did the math so you won’t have to,’ Begala told her.

“‘Four percent of the presidential vote in Virginia, Florida, Ohio, Iowa, New Mexico, and Colorado is 916,643 people. That’s it. The American president will be selected by fewer than half the number of people who paid to get into a Houston Astros home game last year.’ ”

paul begala on american voters

Paul Begala

As you might expect, something else the undecideds have in common is a stupefying lack of basic knowledge regarding current events, politics or even fundamental civics. Does that translate to the undecideds among us also being the stupidest among us? You don’t have to answer that, and neither do I, but the question does keep coming up in these analysis pieces and based on the kind of group profiles they project, I do not think you would want any undecideds doing surgery on you or your loved ones.

People who take umbrage at this frequently confuse independent voters with undecided voters. Independents have often given up on both political parties after belonging to one or both of them. Many independents vote regularly and know all about the issues. My apologies to any touchy independents.

But we aren’t talking about independent voters here – we are talking about people who are so zombie-like that they truly cannot figure out which of two clearly defined candidates they like best.

Spending Marketing Dollars on the Undecideds

The amount of money being spent trying to get through to the undediceds is astonishing. Before bothering to do much research, I calculated that about a billion dollars each sounded right for the two candidates. Boy, was I wrong.

The OpenSecrets.org, a blog that pushes for good government in Washington, recently quoted one of their experts on the amount of money that will be spent, including advertising, media buys of all sorts, public relations, social media, direct mail, volunteers, and even flower arrangements at fund- raising dinners:

“Although a lot of money still remains to be raised and spent, the data already show that we’re on track to break the extraordinary, record-setting sums spent in 2008,” said Sheila Krumholz, executive director of the Center for Responsive Politics. “That cycle was the first in which we crossed the $5 billion mark, and the big question now is whether we will already reach — or surpass — $6 billion just one cycle later. At a minimum, we’ll come close. More important than the total spent, the real difference this cycle is how great a portion of that money will come from purportedly independent, often secretive groups.”

Watch the Eagles vs. Saints Game

eagles saints games 2012If you like your wars fought largely on television, then this political season is meant for you. Thus far, President Obama has heavily out- spent Mitt Romney, but Romney has an advantage in the total amount of money raised. He’s waiting for big buys closer to the election. And he will easily be able to afford them.

Elizabeth Wilner, writing in Advertising Age, predicts that the single biggest ad night for politics this year – maybe for anything this year — will be the TV advertising cash that’s spent on the ESPN Monday Night NFL game between the Philadelphia Eagles and the New Orleans Saints. The next day is, of course, Election Day.

The irony in that is compelling: Obama and Romney come into this election as two severely wounded candidates, regardless of what else transpires between now and November 6.

While the candidates are bombarding us with unrelentingly negative messages, the two teams playing that night will be equally injured: the Saints will still be reeling as a result of the league-imposed penalties stemming from Bounty-Gate and the Eagles, as a team and an organization, will still be trying to come to terms with the tragic death of coach Andy Reed’s son. As long as you like your melodrama thick, you’ll be getting big doses of it.

And, just in case you are wondering who is mainly responsible for all that contributing, the answer is the same for both parties. The primary givers usually belong to some combination of the financial, insurance and real estate industries.

Now, you may be thinking, but aren’t those the people who wrecked the economy back in 2008?

The answer is yes – and they are contributing generously to Republicans and Democrats, alike.

So, it looks like somebody has come out of the recession by landing on their feet.