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Presidential debates offer brands chance to reach millions

Presidential candidates take part in presidential debates held at Brookhouse School in Nairobi on February 28, 2013. There is need to invite other actors to play a role in the managing of presidential debates. FILE PHOTO | JOAN PERERUAN | NATION MEDIA GROUP
Presidential candidates take part in presidential debates held at Brookhouse School in Nairobi on February 28, 2013. There is need to invite other actors to play a role in the managing of presidential debates. FILE PHOTO | JOAN PERERUAN | NATION MEDIA GROUP  

The first presidential debate of this ‘silly season’ was meant to be broadcast this evening, but it was cancelled last Friday after the two main presidential candidates threatened to skip it.

A presidential debate is nothing without a bit of controversy, and the media owners should have called the candidates’ bluff and went ahead with it.

Not only will everyone with a set of eyes and ears be glued to their TVs and radios on the night, but it is also projected to be the highest rated broadcast.

All Kenyan media owners are participating in this project with the aim of widening the democratic space and hopefully to make some money in the process.

It is a common tactic of campaign managers to lower the expectations of their candidate in weeks prior to the debate so that they can carry the day even with a mediocre performance.

This is usually done by convincing the masses that they won’t do a good job on stage, or in this case, that they won’t turn up for the debate.

Finally when the expectations are extremely low, all they have to do is to turn up for the debate on time to score major points with the electorate.

So, I imagine the communications teams in both camps are currently cursing, grinding their teeth and swinging their arms in disappointment at this turn of events — “who came up with the plan to lower expectations anyway?”

Advertisers of mass market brands can use these moments to boost their visibility and spend at least 30 seconds with the members of the family that don’t take a bathroom break or rush to the kitchen for a snack.

It will get more viewers than the World Cup finals because it is not skewed to males, and more viewed than an episode of Simply Maria, because it is not just enjoyed by women.

Major media events such as this are not included within the media plan in the usual manner, but must be seized for the opportunities they offer. At the 1984 Super Bowl, Apple placed an ad that defined their future and helped to position the brand as number one in the minds of Americans.

Instead of shying away from the ‘dirty politics’ and vowing not to get any of the negatives associated with your brand, ride the wave and use it to launch a big initiative that will benefit from exposure to 23 million sets of eyeballs.

It better be a good idea too, because the media owners are certainly not sleeping on the job and have created a special rate card for this momentous occasion.

Thanks to the postponed debate you can now get your ad agency to develop a great idea, shoot the ad and edit it in studio within the next 14 days so that it can be flighted on 24th July during the presidential debate.

If you miss this opportunity, not all is lost, because there will be a set of presidential debates organised in 2022 and if you’re still in the same job, that will give you plenty of time to plan.

You might otherwise consider the world cup next year as another chance for category dominance using this tried and tested technique.

To the media owners, when the campaign teams threaten to pull out of the next debate, just call their bluff and watch what happens.

Mr Otin is a digital marketing expert and CEO of The Collectiv, an interactive ad agency.

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