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. 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.
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.
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.”