18th Century wisdom for 21st Century candidates

They say what’s old eventually becomes new again. So we were struck when we recently ran across a short quote from, of all people, the 18th century French philosopher Voltaire that just nails why so many of today’s campaigns communicate terribly:

“The secret to being a bore is to tell everything.

This 18th Century French guy knows how to keep your 21st Century campaign from boring voters to tears

This 18th Century French guy knows how to keep your 21st Century campaign from boring voters to tears

Voltaire nails two very different problems we see time and again.

Telling everything in your ads (or mail pieces) makes them, and you, boring.

A good ad or mailer makes a single point clearly and does so in a way that interests the person on the receiving end. It may offer a lot of detail about the point being made, especially in mail, but ultimately, the best ads make a single point.

A lot of candidates and campaigns have a tough time with this. They want to crowbar five issues into a mailer or hit multiple themes in a radio spot.

They want to tell everything in one piece of communication because they’re afraid if they don’t, they’ll miss telling someone something that would’ve made a difference in winning their vote.

What happens when you try to jam multiple points into an ad or mailer is exactly the opposite. You generally end up with a communication that doesn’t generate interest from any voters.

When you throw the kitchen sink into an ad or mailer, that communication becomes tougher to follow, is less narratively coherent and is less likely to have a “hook” to initially grab the attention of the voter.

Look at it like this. If you make one point clearly, you may miss some voters who don’t care about that point, but you’re winning the hearts and minds of those that do care.  If you try to make multiple points in one ad, you risk not winning over ANY of the voters you sought to appeal to because you probably have an ad that doesn’t engage any of them.

Better to make one point coherently to win over the people who care about that point and catch the others with a separate ad.

We know what you’re going to say. “What if I don’t have the money to do another ad or mailer to make the second (or fifth) point? I have to get this information out to the voters!

No. You don’t.

If you don’t have the money to make an additional ad or mailer to make the second point, then choose the best point you can afford to make and run with it. Better yet, go raise the money for the additional ad.

It’s a choice worth making if you want a campaign that isn’t a bore. Bores don’t win over voters very often.

Social media that only tells people about you without engaging or listening to them makes you boring.

We see a lot of candidate social media feeds. Most of them are dreadful.

The typical campaign social media stream is filled with stuff like this:

    • Pictures of candidates at events (“Had a great time talking to the Hooterville Republicans last night.”)
    • Updates on how hard the candidate is working (“We drove 300 miles and hit 5 fairs today to meet lots of voters.”)
    • Fundraising pitches (“The next campaign filing deadline is in 18 minutes and we are still $7,416 from our goal.)
    • Slice of life stuff to “humanize” the candidate (“I took some time off the campaign trail to take the kids for ice cream to prove I’m a good dad and not just a robo-politician.”)

It’s just you talking about yourself. All “telling.” No listening or engagement. BO-RING.

When campaigns do this, followers start to ignore your messages—they just scroll past your posts. That’s not much payoff for the effort you’re making.

If you’re going to use social media in your campaign, then attempt to actually be social. That means engaging followers so they can “tell” you some things too.

So in between asking for money and posting pictures of you campaigning at the local bacon festival, use your feed to ask your followers questions. Offer a poll. Post an opinion and ask for feedback. Ask your followers to do something. Get them involved.

When you do that, your feed becomes a place where your campaign deepens relationships, generates interest and creates enthusiasm. And no one will call you a bore.

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