Who’s Influencing the 2016 Election?

As endorse­ments evolve, here’s who holds sway – and what we’re like­ly to see from can­di­dates as their cam­paigns progress.

Lisa Lacy By Lisa Lacy. Join the discussion » 0 comments

Polit­i­cal endorse­ments are noth­ing new – from fel­low politi­cians, news­pa­pers and celebri­ties alike – but how can­di­dates and their influ­en­tial sup­port­ers cut through the prover­bial noise is chang­ing, along with our abil­i­ty to quan­ti­fy their efforts. And mar­keters uni­ver­sal­ly agree the ad land­scape will change dra­mat­i­cal­ly after the pri­maries, so we’ve only seen the tip of the 2016 polit­i­cal adver­tis­ing ice­berg to date. That’s not to say more tra­di­tion­al sources don’t car­ry weight or can’t be ampli­fied. In fact, accord­ing to data from SEO plat­form Linkdex, which spon­sors Momen­tol­ogy, the New York Times, the Atlantic and the New York­er lead the way among news and media web­sites in terms of site vis­its from search­es on a nation­al lev­el – and there­fore have the most vis­i­bil­i­ty over­all. But so far in this elec­tion, pop-cul­ture-gen­er­at­ed polit­i­cal con­tent is also hold­ing sway, dri­ving views and shares – and impact­ing search behav­ior. In addi­tion, we’re see­ing can­di­dates pur­pose­ly align them­selves with influ­encers and start to test out new plat­forms in some­thing of a pre­view of things to come. Here’s a look at influ­encers so far in the 2016 elec­tion – and what’s next.

I Can See Russia From My House”

Take SNL, for exam­ple. The 40-year-old sketch com­e­dy show has a long his­to­ry of sat­i­riz­ing the Com­man­der in Chief, from Chevy Chase as a clum­sy Ger­ald Ford and Dar­rell Ham­mond as a wom­an­iz­ing Bill Clin­ton to Will Fer­rell as a less-than-bright George W. Bush – which itself spurred a Broad­way show and an HBO spe­cial, You’re Wel­come Amer­i­ca — and, of course, Tina Fey as a MIL­Fy Sarah Palin.

It’s too late to quan­ti­fy the impact of these moments on the elec­tions they pre­ced­ed, but it’s fair to say Fey’s turn as Palin was, at the very least, a big cul­tur­al moment. (And Palin’s sub­se­quent appear­ance on the show spurred a sketch in which a very preg­nant

It’s too late to quan­ti­fy the impact of these moments on the elec­tions they pre­ced­ed, but it’s fair to say Fey’s turn as Palin was, at the very least, a big cul­tur­al moment. (And Palin’s sub­se­quent appear­ance on the show spurred a sketch in which a very preg­nant Amy Poehler rapped about Bill Ayers, the Bridge to Nowhere and killing moose, which might be one of SNL’s most mem­o­rable political(-ish) sketch­es of all time). And it seems Fey’s still got it.

Her return to SNL to endorse Don­ald Trump as Palin gen­er­at­ed 7.3 mil­lion views on YouTube alone and anoth­er rough­ly 10 mil­lion views on Face­book, per video ad tech firm Pix­a­bil­i­ty. And, per anoth­er video ad tech firm, Unruly, the video net­ted 113,000 shares on YouTube and 182,000 on Face­book. A faux Trump ad that fol­lowed has 6.1 mil­lion views on YouTube to date, as well as about 20 mil­lion views on Face­book, Pix­a­bil­i­ty says. And, accord­ing to Unruly, this Vot­ers for Trump spot gen­er­at­ed 100,000 YouTube shares and 735,000 Face­book shares. “These are shared like cat videos but not for the same rea­sons,” says Mark DiMas­si­mo, CEO and chief cre­ative offi­cer at agency DiMas­si­mo Gold­stein. “It’s not because they’re cute and cud­dly – it’s because they are sharp and dead­ly.”


But SNL isn’t the only game in town any­more. The Dai­ly Show with Jon Stew­art debuted in 1999 and over the course of 16 sea­sons, focused heav­i­ly on pol­i­tics and media, lead­ing some to call Stew­art America’s lead­ing polit­i­cal satirist. And Stew­art arguably gave rise to John Oliv­er and Last Week Tonight, which, with all due respect to Trevor Noah, has real­ly picked up where Stew­art left off. For his part, Tom Edwards, chief dig­i­tal offi­cer at mar­ket­ing agency Epsilon, points to Stewart’s 2008 elec­tion cov­er­age as a key dri­ver for con­nect­ing can­di­dates with younger audi­ences and empow­er­ing vot­ers and facil­i­tat­ing crit­i­cal thought. “In 2016, the abil­i­ty to dis­trib­ute and ampli­fy video con­tent means that the reach poten­tial of con­tent such as Oliver’s rant or oth­er con­tex­tu­al­ly rel­e­vant con­tent has the poten­tial to be ampli­fied very quick­ly,” Edwards adds. Case in point: Oliver’s seg­ment on Don­ald Trump aired Feb­ru­ary 28, caus­ing huge buzz, includ­ing 22.2 mil­lion views on YouTube and near­ly 60 mil­lion views on Face­book, accord­ing to Pix­a­bil­i­ty, as well as 1.1 mil­lion shares on YouTube and 1.8 mil­lion shares on Face­book, Unruly says.

Fur­ther, Michael Lieber­man, chief oper­at­ing offi­cer at com­mu­ni­ca­tions agency Ten­thav­enue, points to Oliver’s use of dig­i­tal inter­ac­tiv­i­ty and social as exten­sions of his broad­casts’ abil­i­ty to influ­ence. “The cre­ation of #Drumpf and a web plug-in that turns all men­tions of Trump to Drumpf are great exam­ples of how he goes beyond the dis­tri­b­u­tion of video clips to influ­ence the con­ver­sa­tion,” Lieber­man adds. And in just eight days, the Oliv­er-endorsed hash­tag #Make­Donald­DrumpfA­gain gen­er­at­ed 554,000 men­tions, along with anoth­er 66,000 for #Drumpf, per social media ana­lyt­ics firm Talk­walk­er. Addi­tion­al data from Pix­a­bil­i­ty demon­strates a clear spike in glob­al YouTube search after these seg­ments aired. Pixability YouTube Search Traffic for Political Content So it isn’t just views and shares – the con­tent Oliv­er and SNL cre­at­ed actu­al­ly impact­ed search behav­ior. Fur­ther, web traf­fic ana­lyt­ics firm Sim­i­lar­Web con­firms search key­words that sent traf­fic to YouTube via desk­top were also up after the Oliv­er seg­ment ran, includ­ing “John Oliv­er” – which was 1.6 mil­lion in the last month – and up from 280,000 in Jan­u­ary. Per Cody Sim­monds, strate­gist at cre­ative agency Struck, this is in part because the con­tent is rais­ing ques­tions that make view­ers want to dig deep­er into the issues. “Audi­ences are def­i­nite­ly query­ing and com­ment­ing based on what they see on tele­vi­sion, be it a debate or political/entertainment pro­gram­ming,” Lieber­man adds. “This is an ingrained behav­ior we have seen with pop­u­lar enter­tain­ment pro­gram­ming that has car­ried over to the polit­i­cal are­na.” Lieber­man also notes Trump and Trump-relat­ed queries have been among the most pop­u­lar polit­i­cal top­ics since ear­ly in the elec­tion cycle. Indeed, Linkdex data shows Trump is the most searched-for can­di­date over­all to date, cap­tur­ing 40.73 per­cent of all top­ic-relat­ed search­es. (He is fol­lowed by Bernie Sanders with 18.26 per­cent and Hillary Clin­ton with 9.09 per­cent.) “How­ev­er, whether increas­es and decreas­es in queries will ulti­mate­ly prove to be an indi­ca­tion of pos­i­tive or neg­a­tive Trump sup­port or sim­ply curios­i­ty remains to be seen,” Lieber­man adds.

Girls, Girls, Girls

But the can­di­dates them­selves aren’t sit­ting idly by. Take Clin­ton, for exam­ple. She (pre­sum­ably) tapped Girls cre­ator Lena Dun­ham to post images on Insta­gram to her 2.4 mil­lion fol­low­ers. Dun­ham has shared plen­ty of visu­al Clin­ton con­tent so far – par­tic­u­lar­ly wear­ing clothes embossed with the candidate’s name, gen­er­at­ing tens of thou­sands of likes apiece, and blogged about her expe­ri­ence on the cam­paign trail in a trav­el­ogue on the Clin­ton web­site. Clin­ton also received the sup­port of wild­ly pro­lif­ic TV pro­duc­er Shon­da Rhimes and the lead­ing ladies of her shows, Vio­la Davis, Ker­ry Wash­ing­ton and Ellen Pom­peo, in a video, Real Life, that draws par­al­lels between the strong char­ac­ters they play and the pres­i­den­tial can­di­date and has about 240,000 views.

And, of course, then there’s Clin­ton show­ing off her act­ing chops on an episode of Broad City in which star-struck side­kicks Abbi Jacob­son and Ilana Glaz­er cross paths with Clin­ton and freak out. In turn, the Clin­ton cam­paign used the moment to blog about what Broad City got right and wrong about its Brook­lyn head­quar­ters.

Talking Shop with Bernie Sanders

But, like the elec­tion itself, per­haps, don’t count Sanders out.

He sat down with hip-hop artist Killer Mike to film a series of six videos in which they talk about issues like eco­nom­ic free­dom, social jus­tice, a rigged econ­o­my and free health care. The videos have 2.3 mil­lion views to date. And, for his part, Killer Mike has about 200,000 fol­low­ers apiece on Twit­ter and Insta­gram.

Cruz Commander

And it’s not just the Democ­rats. To wit: Phil Robert­son, founder of duck call brand Duck Com­man­der and patri­arch of the real­i­ty show Duck Dynasty, endorsed Ted Cruz in a video, Cruz Com­man­der, that has over 1 mil­lion views to date. For its part, the Duck Dynasty brand has 2.2 mil­lion Twit­ter fol­low­ers and 8.3 mil­lion Face­book likes. How­ev­er, it is per­haps worth not­ing Phil’s son Willie – the CEO of Duck Com­man­der and anoth­er Duck Dynasty star – advo­cat­ed for Trump to his 2.4 mil­lion Twit­ter fol­low­ers. (Trump won the pri­ma­ry in the Robert­sons’ home state of Louisiana with 41.4 per­cent of the vote, but both Trump and Cruz walked away with 18 del­e­gates.)


And then there’s Trump him­self, who is arguably an influ­encer in his own right, boast­ing 7.1 mil­lion Twit­ter fol­low­ers, 6.6 mil­lion Face­book likes and 1.2 mil­lion Insta­gram fol­low­ers. He has also mas­ter­ful­ly dom­i­nat­ed head­lines to date. “The key learn­ing now appears to be about ampli­fi­ca­tion not nec­es­sar­i­ly to spread a candidate’s mes­sage, but sim­ply as a dom­i­na­tion tac­tic – Trump dom­i­nates the broad­cast, online and social news cycles in a way we have nev­er before seen,” Lieber­man says. “Even the SNL and John Oliv­er pieces serve, to some degree, to remove the spot­light from oth­er can­di­dates and focus it on Trump. Can­di­dates look­ing to draw atten­tion to them­selves need to find ways of dis­rupt­ing the online news and social con­ver­sa­tions that keep Trump front and cen­ter for most vot­ers. And vot­ers look­ing for more infor­ma­tion need to dig deep­er to find more infor­ma­tion on oth­er can­di­dates when every sto­ry is about Trump.”

More, More, More

And it’s only going to get nois­i­er. For one thing, that means more acti­va­tions on more plat­forms. Case in point: Clin­ton post­ed her first Red­dit in ear­ly March. But it also means more con­tent from more influ­encers. Jesse Leim­gru­ber, CEO of influ­encer mar­ket­ing plat­form Neo­Re­ach, says he has spo­ken to “a num­ber of famous YouTu­bers who are plan­ning their endorse­ment announce­ments in the upcom­ing months,” and points to CJ Pear­son, the “young con­ser­v­a­tive polit­i­cal activist” who recent­ly made head­lines for sup­port­ing Sanders, as a good exam­ple. Fur­ther, Skyler Irvine, CEO of dig­i­tal media and con­tent mar­ket­ing firm Grace Lane, notes the pro­lif­er­a­tion of plat­forms means audi­ences are get­ting small­er, which poten­tial­ly lim­its each influencer’s impact on the elec­tion over­all, but increas­es his or her influ­ence over audi­ence-spe­cif­ic prod­ucts and ser­vices.

So…What’s Next?

In the end, the adage, “There’s no such thing as bad pub­lic­i­ty,” may be the best advice for can­di­dates to keep in mind. That’s in part because mar­keters agree the bulk of con­tent to date like­ly only rein­forces exist­ing sen­ti­ment. But all is not lost. Even if con­tent mere­ly cre­ates con­ver­sa­tion rather than alters per­cep­tions, Assaf Henkin, senior vice pres­i­dent of brand intel­li­gence solu­tions at mar­ket­ing tech­nol­o­gy com­pa­ny Amobee, says the added expo­sure can be used by savvy can­di­dates to fur­ther con­nect with vot­ers to set the record straight on cer­tain issues, to respond to oth­er can­di­dates or to even show vot­ers they have a sense of humor. Edwards agrees the can­di­dates that can poke fun at them­selves have an oppor­tu­ni­ty to fur­ther con­nect with poten­tial vot­ers. “For the cam­paigns with savvy dig­i­tal mar­ket­ing strate­gies in place, lever­ag­ing the con­ver­sa­tion cre­at­ed to inte­grate their mes­sag­ing can be a sound strat­e­gy, if the con­tent is con­tex­tu­al and res­onates with the intend­ed audi­ence,” he adds. Fur­ther, Edwards says the key for cam­paigns is to not only invest in tra­di­tion­al search and paid media strate­gies, but to also be agile to top­i­cal and social con­ver­sa­tion. “Some­thing like the Trump SNL ad will gen­er­ate a lot of atten­tion that oth­er RNC can­di­dates could quick­ly exe­cute an SEM and Twit­ter Search strat­e­gy on to fur­ther dri­ve their per­sua­sive mes­sag­ing,” he adds. “The key for can­di­dates is that every men­tion and inter­ac­tion is anoth­er sig­nal for the cam­paigns to tar­get to rein­force their posi­tion and dri­ve action from vot­ers in key pri­maries and the gen­er­al elec­tion.”

Lisa Lacy

Written by Lisa Lacy

Lisa is a senior features writer for Inked. She also previously covered digital marketing for Incisive Media. Her background includes editorial positions at Dow Jones, the Financial Times, the Huffington Post, AOL, Amazon, Hearst, Martha Stewart Living and the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund.

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