I was asked in a radio interview the other morning to comment on the ethics of the campaign. I don’t have any issues with the ethics. But it brings up ideas in marketing which will one day dawn on all brands trying to communicate in the social era.
First let’s deal with the ethics, though. Is it a reasonable argument that the ANC, being the ruling party, set government policy, that it voted for e-tolls in parliament, and is responsible? This campaign highlights that argument. The DA putting up the billboards is merely evidencing a keen grasp of the obvious – like putting up a billboard saying ‘water is wet’ would be.
Photo: The DA’s ‘E-tolls. Proudly brought to you by the ANC’ billboard
I really can’t see how the ANC could complain. The only thing that a complaint will do is confirm to the population that the ANC is not proud of having brought e-tolls to Johannesburg. E-tolls are highly unpopular, however, and stir emotion and are an obvious weak entry point for campaigning. This does place the ANC reputation management strategists between a rock and a hard place.
There is no doubt that the DA has started a conversation, but has the DA had the wit to understand what to do with that conversation? A key principle in spreading ideas during the social era is to try to understand what happens to the message after the audience consumes it. Audiences are the currency of the broadcast era, but the key conversation is always the conversation between the audience and their network, so what is critical is to ask where the idea goes after the audience has been exposed to it.
I work with a methodology called directed activism, which sets out to find the activists, in other words the people who care, grouped around any talking point, and help enable them to achieve their goals.
In the olden days, an ad agency would have been satisfied if the message was amplified by the media and that they got great free – or what we could call earned – media coverage. They would have been happy if it picked up momentum in networks and on social media. But by stopping there, they have missed out on huge value by failing to analyse the community, the real influence in the community and the ability to nudge the conversation towards achieving the overall goal.
So why do I think they missed this opportunity?
Because there is no hashtag on the billboard.
The hashtag groups all the conversation relating to a specific idea. The idea started on Twitter, but has now spread to all the major social platforms. It allows people to follow the conversation, and it ring-fences the conversation; it facilitates analytics and it allows understanding and insight. It allows us to discover the influencers, the susceptibles, the sharers and the connectors. It allows us to find the activists, it allows us to coordinate their efforts. It allows us invite them to the next conversation.
This is the real future of marketing, of marketing in the social era. I think that the DA made a sterling effort, very smart work in the wording of the billboards, which I would be amazed if the ASA bans – although would it really matter if they did? Having said that, ASA decisions are a cause of constant amazement, so anything could happen.
Still, I think the DA has been successful in generating earned media. I am critical.
The billboards may be a bit subtle in their wording if ANC spokesman Jackson Mthembu is anything to go by. He could not have got the irony when he told the The New Age “I can tell you it is definitely not us that is behind the billboards. The ANC would have branded it with the logo and ANC colours if it was us.” One of my twitter followers said the ANC should thank the DA.
The billboards talk to current DA supporters and could probably alienate the ANC support base – because the billboards are trying to be clever, which could be perceived as a “dirty trick” of electioneering.
And there was no hashtag.
Ireland's population has still not recovered from the Great Famine.