My grandma always insisted that we never talk about politics during the holidays. In the rare instances something even remotely political crossed the dinner table, perhaps tailing a basket of dinner rolls, she’d stop, look down, and stay quiet until the offender noticed their faux pas. For brands, election season might feel a bit like a minefield, and this election is particularly toxic.
That hasn’t stopped many of the world’s biggest brands from politely toeing the political fence by strong urging (or reminding, or commanding) their followers to register to vote. It’s a noble cause that leaves political leanings ambiguous and, therefore, safe from attack. It’s also a serious issue. In 2016, only about 56% of eligible Americans actually cast a ballot, down by 10% from the most-participated election ever in 2008.
Across platforms, brands have incorporated interesting ways to invite followers to participate in the election. Most common, and most successful, is a simple link to information on local voter registration guidelines, voting laws, and other governmental resources. You may have noticed links while flipping through Instagram or Twitter recently with state-based information. Additionally, many brands have also incorporated voter registration messaging into their email marketing.
While this admirable, warm-and-fuzzy civic-mindedness improves the brand image, there’s little data that all this poking actually results in a lot of new voters. Experts say that the most effective way to recruit new voters is in-person conversation and personal phone calls, with even campaign-based marketing resulting in just a 1-3% success rate.
Brands may not realize that more of their followers are likely interested in how that company is working to make it easier for their employees to vote. In 2016, more than two million voters didn’t make it to the polls simply because they didn’t have. Companies can do much more to encourage voting by making changes in-house, including offering paid half-days or full days off for their workforce. They can also offer voter registration on-site, or facilitate informational sessions that can help explain voter rules and regulations, especially now that more states have adjusted their absentee voting laws due to the pandemic.
At the end of Election Day, brands aren’t likely to have greatly influenced voter participation, but big platforms like Facebook and Twitter do bear responsibility for the prevalence of misinformation on their sites. Just like in 2016, Facebook is rife with fraudulent ‘facts’, and it’s not just Russia. The US is creating plenty of its own incendiary and viral posts that have a far more damaging role in a democracy than high or low voter turnout.
So, should you talk about the election in your marketing? We think so. However, it’s far more important and impactful to let the world know what you’re doing, rather than parroting everyone else. Commit to giving in-person voters in your workplace paid time off to go to the polls. Encourage your team to register to vote, and avoid any conversations about the candidates; focus on access to voting rights, and getting your team in a safe position to have their voice heard.
For more information on voter registration, absentee voting, and important dates in the 2020 election, head here.