Ram­say Na­j­jar - On ef­fec­tive po­lit­i­cal cam­paign­ing

Renowned com­mu­ni­ca­tion spe­cial­ist, Ram­say G. Na­j­jar, Founder & Man­ag­ing Part­ner of Strate­gic Com­mu­ni­ca­tion Con­sul­tancy (S2C) shares his pro­fes­sional ex­per­tise on po­lit­i­cal cam­paign­ing in gen­eral and as­sesses Le­banon’s re­cent po­lit­i­cal ad­ver­tis­ing in parti

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Most of the cam­paigns this year are very straight­for­ward, with an easy mem­o­rable punch­line giv­ing the tar­get vot­ers a rea­son why, this time, they should vote for a can­di­date or a party. Do you think this is an ef­fec­tive strat­egy that can have an im­pact on how vot­ers vote?

A catchy slogan or a mem­o­rable punch­line is cer­tainly not enough to in­flu­ence cit­i­zens and their vot­ing pat­tern, es­pe­cially if not tied to a larger cam­paign strat­egy that seeks to sub­stan­ti­ate or sup­port the claim made. In fact, with more than 900 can­di­dates run­ning for of­fice in these elec­tions, it has be­come some­thing of a run­ning joke to com­pare the dif­fer­ent cam­paign slo­gans and some of their “in­ter­est­ing” claims, such as fo­cus­ing on loy­alty when the can­di­date him­self chose to forgo his al­lies, at the last minute, and switch to a di­a­met­ri­cally op­posed list only to try to se­cure a seat on what he be­lieves to be a win­ning ticket.

As such, be­yond fo­cus­ing on the slogan alone, an ef­fec­tive strat­egy will re­quire a clear po­si­tion­ing for the can­di­date or the list, a well-de­vel­oped and tar­geted nar­ra­tive that cor­rob­o­rates the as­pired po­si­tion­ing, and an ef­fec­tive me­dia plan that uses a well-bal­anced mix of avail­able plat­forms.

How to eval­u­ate a good po­lit­i­cal cam­paign?

A good po­lit­i­cal cam­paign is one that is based on a clear and com­pre­hen­sive strat­egy, away from any im­pro­vi­sa­tion and the pri­or­i­ti­za­tion of form over sub­stance.

Par­tic­u­larly, a catchy slogan or an en­gag­ing vis­ual alone are cer­tainly not suf­fi­cient, whereby a well-de­fined po­si­tion­ing is key for the can­di­date or the party to per­suade vot­ers and pro­vide a con­vinc­ing al­ter­na­tive.

Un­der­stand­ing the psy­che of vot­ers and in­flu­encers and what trig­gers them is also key, as is ex­haus­tively map­ping the po­lit­i­cal land­scape and the cam­paign and me­dia scene.

A good po­lit­i­cal cam­paign re­quires hav­ing a tar­get-spe­cific mes­sage plat­form and a well-de­fined and multi-plat­form me­dia plan, whereby through the law of fre­quency and the use of the ad­e­quate chan­nels, can­di­dates can re­in­force their po­si­tion­ing and Unique Sell­ing Propo­si­tion, sim­i­lar to any prod­uct or brand.

In that sense, me­dia ex­po­sure and on-the-ground con­tact with vot­ers is paramount, whereby name recog­ni­tion and re­call is crit­i­cal in a clut­tered elec­toral field with over 900 can­di­dates vy­ing for 128 seats.

Among all the po­lit­i­cal cam­paigns launched so far, is there any strong con­cept that caught your at­ten­tion?

It all de­pends on how we de­fine a “strong con­cept”. A cam­paign can be eye-catch­ing, mem­o­rable, and have a high re­call fac­tor, yet it might not be strate­gi­cally rel­e­vant to the party or the

can­di­date in terms of its po­si­tion­ing, equity, or per­ceived im­age.

In fact, how­ever cre­atively wellex­e­cuted a cam­paign is, it can­not be dis­so­ci­ated from the mes­sage it tries to con­vey. For ex­am­ple, can­di­dates can­not call for change when they them­selves have been in power for many years. In that sense, de­spite any de­sign, vi­su­al­iza­tion, or copy­writ­ing prow­ess, the cam­paign is bound to fail be­cause of the dis­con­nect be­tween its mes­sage and the po­lit­i­cal and so­cial re­al­ity on the ground. Obama’s “Yes we can” cam­paign, in con­trast, suc­ceeded be­cause it built on the ex­pec­ta­tions of so­cial and po­lit­i­cal changes to come, most no­tably the abil­ity to elect the first black Pres­i­dent and a can­di­date that would break from the war-wav­ing tra­di­tion in­her­ited from eight years of a Ge­orge W Pres­i­dency.

On the flip side, I be­lieve some cam­paigns were to the point in terms of their po­si­tion­ing of the party or can­di­date, yet might have strayed in their ex­e­cu­tional di­rec­tion by re­ly­ing on a sym­bol­ism that is ei­ther cul­tur­ally ques­tion­able or fig­u­ra­tively in­ac­cu­rate. Others still did well in cap­i­tal­iz­ing on so­cial me­dia to reach young vot­ers and out­door cam­paigns to get their mes­sage across to the largest seg­ment of con­stituents.

To give credit where credit is due, we have seen some cam­paigns with some cre­ative copy­writ­ing twists, yet the fact that al­liances are still in the mak­ing at the time of writ­ing this piece makes it some­what early to be able to truly as­sess the cam­paigns and to sin­gle out the most suc­cess­ful ones, in the larger def­i­ni­tion of the term.

Which is the most per­sua­sive po­lit­i­cal cam­paign or/and slogan you’ve seen so far?

The fact that most po­lit­i­cal par­ties have, by and large, done lit­tle to change things for the bet­ter in Le­banon, it be­comes par­tic­u­larly hard for them to try to per­suade vot­ers that they will now be able to do so, af­ter years of be­ing in or shar­ing power.

Hav­ing said that, civil so­ci­ety groups have an op­por­tu­nity to lever­age the dis­con­tent of vot­ers vis-à-vis es­tab­lished par­ties, through proper com­mu­ni­ca­tion, granted that they el­e­vate them­selves be­yond their dif­fer­ences and of­fer a uni­fied front, some­thing that they have yet to do.

Slo­gans that rhyme or play on words are ar­guably ap­peal­ing, and there have been a few of them in this cam­paign so far, yet their abil­ity to per­suade re­mains doubt­ful if not tied to a more com­plete po­lit­i­cal cam­paign strat­egy.

More­over, for a cam­paign to be per­sua­sive, it needs to be co­her­ent and co­he­sive, in the sense that the me­dia ads and other com­mu­ni­ca­tion col­lat­eral need to be in sync with the dis­course and po­lit­i­cal po­si­tions of the can­di­date. As most can­di­dates have yet to dis­close their agen­das and elec­toral pro­grams, judg­ing the com­pat­i­bil­ity and per­sua­sive­ness of the cam­paigns at this time re­mains largely in­com­plete and dif­fi­cult.

Do you think cit­i­zens are in­clined to up­date their at­ti­tudes/votes in re­sponse to po­lit­i­cal cam­paign mes­sag­ing?

From John F. Kennedy to Barack Obama, Don­ald Trump, François Hol­lande, and François Mit­ter­rand, to name a few of the bet­ter known elected of­fi­cials, po­lit­i­cal cam­paigns have proven in the last few decades, and with­out a shadow of a doubt, their abil­ity to change the game and to turn un­der­dogs into win­ning can­di­dates.

Yet pro­claim­ing that cit­i­zens are in­clined to up­date their votes in re­sponse to po­lit­i­cal cam­paign mes­sag­ing re­quires first defin­ing the lat­ter con­cept and the ex­tent to which the de­sired im­pact can be broad.

In fact, if “po­lit­i­cal cam­paign mes­sag­ing” is de­fined in its nar­rower sense as re­flect­ing the spo­ken or writ­ten nar­ra­tive and mes­sage plat­form of the can­di­date, then at­tribut­ing any shifts in voter be­hav­ior solely to it is de­bat­able at best, ex­cept in the cases of an ex­trem­ist rhetoric that pan­ders to the fears, in­se­cu­ri­ties, and prej­u­dices of con­stituents.

How­ever, once “po­lit­i­cal cam­paign mes­sag­ing” is de­fined in its broader sense as re­flect­ing the po­si­tion­ing, rep­u­ta­tional and per­cep­tual equity, non­ver­bal com­mu­ni­ca­tion, and ac­tual agenda and nar­ra­tive of the can­di­date, then its im­pact can no longer be un­der­stated. Said dif­fer­ently, vot­ers are per­suaded not only through the promises or po­si­tions taken by can­di­dates on cer­tain is­sues, but also through the sub­con­scious im­age

A cam­paign can be eye-catch­ing, mem­o­rable, and have a high re­call fac­tor, yet it might not be strate­gi­cally rel­e­vant to the party or the can­di­date in terms of its po­si­tion­ing, equity, or per­ceived im­age.

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