Sunday, December 19, 2010

Political News Marketers and Prickly Politicans

When I want political news and opinion on television, I always watch the "The Daily Show" with Jon Stewart and "The Colbert Report" first. However, on "The Daily Show" Tuesday, Stewart delivered an interesting real-life marketing story. Like campaigning politicians throwing quick jabs at their opponents across the aisle, the three major 24-hour news networks, Fox News, MSNBC, and CNN, are all taking shots at each other with their new marketing campaigns.

It all started in October when MSNBC news network unveiled a two-year multimillion dollar campaign to increase brand awareness and raise ratings to the level of competitor Fox News. Network President Phil Griffin said, "We've taken on CNN and beat it's time to take on Fox." To do so, MSNBC developed dramatic ads that call the viewer to "Lean Forward." The tagline is a play off the common political-pundit expression of "leaning to the left." By saying, "lean forward," the network says "we're not left-leaning liberals, we're progressive."

Fox News was quick to respond with their own creativity to pooh-pooh MSNBC's progressive movement. Fox says it doesn't lean anywhere; they "Move Forward." While it may not be an official retort from Fox, its pundits have no issues with making their feelings known; for instance, Glenn Beck has suggested on Fox airwaves that MSNBC's slogan should be "Bend Over."

CNN wisely differentiates itself by taking shots at both networks. Their latest spot denounces both networks' partisan agendas and says that it, in fact, reports the most accurate version of the truth.

I love it when marketers directly respond or make overt statements about the competition in their ads. First of all, I believe the practice can be very effective in differentiating brands. Secondly, it's entertaining to watch the battle play out. Burger King versus McDonald's, Verizon versus AT&T—I'm all for it. In this case, however, I immediately questioned the effect this straightforward approach will have. If my logic is correct, the only people to switch brands will be the rare few who switch their political ideologies. If you're conservative, you'll keep watching Fox. If you're progressive, you'll keep watching MSNBC. And if you cannot stand either, I guess you'll watch CNN. There isn't a lot of wiggle room, and that's the whole point. The ads, primarily directed at those already watching the network, only serve to harden the viewer's political stances. Do you lean left? Lean further. Have conservative values? Be more conservative. By reaffirming the beliefs of current viewers, the ratings payday will come in the form of longer viewing times.

Oddly enough, politicians use a similar strategy to achieve the opposite result. During election season, politicians turn up the intensity and increase the scale of their sometimes crude direct-attack ads with the intent to induce the "they're all jerks" reflex of the general population. The end result can be low voter turnouts at the polls in critical elections and primaries, which naturally translates to an easier and safer road to public office.

The similarities don't end there. We all know the reporting and punditry of the news networks can be just as questionable as the words of a politician. It's no wonder that Jon Stewart and Stephan Colbert are so popular for revealing the truth.

This post also appeared on Beneath the Brand.

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