Craig Hannabus
Craig Hannabus

Political marketing – what retail can learn

by Craig Hannabus. What retailers can learn from the bad political marketing we saw over the past couple of months.

by Craig Hannabus. In case you’ve been living under a rock, we’ve just had our local elections, and some of us voted. Emphasis on some of us. The voter turnout hit a record low this time around. While there are some very compelling reasons for this, I thought it might interesting to talk a little about what platforms our political parties are using. I’m not talking about political platforms (who doesn’t enjoy a good political debate), instead I’m talking about marketing platforms. Despite the availability of a plethora of options here, when I conducted a quick poll around the office, there were two very clear winners in the way parties are reaching out to us; and according to recent research, they’re the two least favourite ways.

It is somewhat odd that there is still an over-reliance on SMS and phone calls in this digital age. It feels like a “we’ve always done it this way” type approach to campaigning and perhaps there is a fear that if you don’t make a phone call, you’re not going to reach someone. Perhaps there is also the idea that a ‘personal touch’ is required to make you feel like your favourite (or not favourite) political party cares about you and your everyday struggles. One of those struggles being time.

Poor platform choice

A recent report has shown that out of the 11 platforms polled, SMS came in dead last, right behind in store promotions. As little as five years ago, SMS was heralded as a cut-through medium and an absolute necessity for any marketing campaign. The story was that “everyone reads them” and they “can’t be ignored”. Either the proponents of SMS were lying, or times have changed. Giving the benefit of the doubt, it is likely that the real reason is that times have changed. In a notification rich phone, guess where your SMS sits on the list – that’s right, down at the bottom.

We won’t go into how unwelcome phone calls are. In recent reports it has been stated that South Africa’s smartphone penetration has reached 90% (and it’s probably higher), which means that phone calls and SMSes can easily be relegated to the lowest priority or taken off the list of platforms all together. Some parties are using Facebook marketing and there seems to be some kind of geo-targeting involved, but for the most part, it seems like many were not seeing any messaging at all.

There are many opportunities in the digital marketing realm. Communities have different issues and bespoke geo-targeted ads will go a long way to addressing these issues, and creating the personalisation that phone calls are meant to bring. The IEC has also released their voter registration stats which clearly illustrate the imbalance of registered voters among the youth and on a provincial level.

What has this got to do with retail?

Quite a lot. One of the biggest faux pas of retails comms is the SMS (fortunately they’ve foregone the phone call). There are many large retailers that insist upon using the platform to communicate specials. The general consensus from the public is, please stop. We are also still getting very generic creative highlighting specials which may not be relevant to us, or not relevant to the store in our area sitting with stock that isn’t moving.

With the lowest voter turnout in history, we can see two things: political parties are dealing with an incredible amount of apathy, and if they want to turn things around, they’re going to have to create a better product and start marketing it properly. The same goes for some retailers.


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Craig Hannabus is strategy director at Rogerwilco. He has spent 11 years in the digital marketing industry. During his career, he’s gained exposure as a community manager, content writer, developer, and UX strategist, before embracing a new role in business strategy. He has worked on blue-chip brands, including Standard Bank, Nedbank, General Motors, Nestle, Reckitt Benckiser and Caxton, etc.


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