The Media are the Message

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Posted on January 29, 2015

Changes in the way we use media and social media ensure that no campaign target is missed.

Over the past 15 years, both the media and the message in political campaigns have been driven by advanced communications technology and data analytics.
Partisan political advertising has evolved from crude mass marketing efforts roughly based on past voting behaviour to highly strategic, research-driven custom messages.
Fifteen years ago, the Internet was not yet a mainstream campaign tool. In the 2000 Canadian federal election, the websites of political parties and candidates were skeletal, disorganized and difficult to navigate. But campaigns were on the cusp of fundamental change. In the U.S., Al Gore’s 2000 presidential campaign deployed a progressive Internet team that began collecting email addresses of voters in order to craft more personalized messages. This marked the start of efforts to build voter profiles in order to deliver focused information that aligned closely with the recipient’s beliefs and behaviour.
Political advertising content also changed with technology. In the late 1980s and early 1990s, it relied on symbolic imagery or general footage of a party leader mingling with potential voters at Tim Hortons or on an assembly line.
Over time, political leaders have begun speaking directly to the camera and to viewers. As attention spans have decreased in the Internet age, so too has the length of traditional ads. From a full minute in the 1960s, television ads have become much briefer — some as short as 15 seconds. Online, however, spots may last closer to 90 seconds.
This change reflects a shift in viewing habits among the electorate. It used to be that everyone was glued to a TV set for specific hours every evening, and people watched things at particular times. With the extreme mobility of laptops, tablets and smart phones, people now expect the message to come to them, rather than the other way around.
While the cost to produce and distribute online political ads has fallen, parties are under pressure to produce and distribute them faster to capitalize on breaking news or to respond to events.
That means simple, low-cost videos have become the new normal. Within hours, campaign workers can produce timely web videos that build momentum by allowing the electorate to comment on and share them.
Furthermore, sophisticated research and data analytics make these ads more strategic and effective. The advent of Big Data allows campaigners to analyze viewer responses and patterns in real time, quickly identifying the issues and responses that resonate most. This insight is then used to create customized but mass scale messages for Twitter, Facebook and YouTube accounts.
In the information age, as never before, political campaigns prove that we shape our tools — and then they shape us.

Partisan political advertsing has evolved from crude mass marketing efforts roughly based on past voting behaviour, to highly strategic, research-driven custom messages.

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