2010 Toronto Municipal Election - A Brand Experience Perspective
“Political advertising ought to be
stopped. It’s the only really dishonest
kind of advertising that’s left.”
playing a bigger
role in political
campaigns than we
would like to think.
In years to come, the brand of our politicians may become more
important than the message. Brand Experience Specialists
will have responsibilities that are of equal importance as those
exercised by traditional campaign managers. Advertising
creatives, alongside policy strategists, will have the power to
influence the voter when it is time for them to cast their ballot.
In 2008, political candidates in the United States spent about
$2.6 Billion dollars on advertising. That figure has increased by
11% in 2010 to $3.3 Billion.
Canadian legislation bans donations from corporations and
unions, therefore limiting the amount of money that a politician
can spend on a campaign.
On the federal level, the Government of Canada has spent $130
Million on advertising in the 2009 - 2010 budget. This is a three-
fold increase from the 2005 - 2006 budget.
Whether advertising is used to market a product, service or idea
- its conversion rate vs its costs have always been debated as
metric is generally broken down by medium.
As technology and how we use it continues to evolve new
metrics will most certainly surface by the time the next election
PRINT ADVERTISING RESPONSE RATE
DIRECT MAIL RESPONSE RATE
SMS/MMS RESPONSE RATE
There is no doubt
that Canadians are
interested in their
As councilors across the country took their best shot at
convincing constituents that they were the best person for the
job, there was extra attention that was paid to the Calgary and
Toronto municipal elections.
The reasons for this varies.
The two cities historically represent opposing partisan brands
(conservative and progressive) and the results could provide
valuable research for the country’s imminent federal election.
For the past four years, Calgary has voted conservative whereas
Toronto has voted progressive.
Toronto and Calgary are home to an ever growing urbanite
population that is increasingly connected via the Internet which
plays a role in how information is communicated between
candidates, media and the voter.
For Canadian standards, the online engagement activity was
Calgarians published more than 55,000 tweets during their
elections whereas Torontonians sent out more than 180,000
tweets during the election.
Toronto has the third highest number of Twitter users, behind
New York and Los Angeles.
“If you don’t get noticed, you don’t have
in the election was
reflected in the
record number of
voters at advance
polls; an increase of
14% from the last
All of the leading mayoral candidates made attempts at
promoting their brand and platform.
More than any other election in the city’s history - a strong
emphasis was placed on establishing cohesive and effective
What did these strategies look like?
They took the shape of content-rich web sites that were filled
with policy documents, YouTube videos, photos and e-mail
Mayoral candidates used e-mail marketing to promote their
message - whether it was a call to action to donate, volunteer or
read the latest press releases.
There was also a lot of time dedicated to managing social media
accounts on Facebook and Twitter.
“Everything you remember about a
company, through interaction, what other
people say about them, advertising, using
their products or every other interaction
is their brand for you.”
In business, the success of a brand depends on how well it’s able
to differentiate itself from its competition, the strong emotional
bond that it creates with the audience and the relevancy of its value
In a campaign, a political brand flourishes for the same reasons.
It can galvanize traditionally quiet voters, help reinforce identity and
provide the tone for a politician’s campaign platform.
A strong brand
that evokes a
us to overlook
our money and
commit our time to
The outcome of the 2010 Toronto Municipal Election is due to the
emotional attachment the voters had to the candidates (EA), the
immediate (perceived or actualized) benefit(s) of this brand (IB) and
the candidate’s brand memory identity (BMI). The EA, IB and BMI
are measured as low, medium or high.
EA: Low | IB: High | BMI: Low
The Emotional Attachment (EA) to the Smitherman brand
was low. The voter could not form the bond that was
expected and this had negative effects: Smitherman was
the only candidate whose poll numbers continued to
decrease throughout most of the race.
The Immediate Benefit (IB) of the Smitherman brand was
high. His campaign positioned him as the only candidate
who could successfully challenge Ford. The result was that
Smitherman finished the race in second place.
The Brand Memory Identity (BMI) of the Smitherman brand
was low. This is attributed to a change of brand focus
throughout the race which decreased the trust that voters
had towards the candidate. The leopard that can change
his spots was a familiar analogy that followed Smitherman
throughout the race. The inconsistency of his brand
reflected negatively with the message of trust that he was
trying to get Torontonians to buy into. Had the BMI value
been high, the results of this race may have been different.
EA: Low | IB: Low | BMI: High
The Emotional Attachment (EA) to the Pantalone brand was
low. It peaked during the 2010 World Cup where Pantalone
was viewed as a bridge builder and a sports enthusiast but
it leveled off as voters could not find something tangible to
get excited about.
The Immediate Benefit (IB) of the Pantalone brand was also
low. The brand was positioned as the anti-thesis of the
change that dominated the front runners’ rhetorics. The
Pantalone brand was seen by many as the status quo: a
rating that resulted in a low IB score.
The Brand Memory Identity (BMI) of the Pantalone brand
was high across all mediums. The image was consistent
which helped develop trust between the voters. The
proliferation of the brand across all channels helped anchor
the campaign in the minds of the voters - allowing quick
recognition and positive attribution. The Pantalone brand
was the only brand that got positive reviews across the
board. Had the IB and EA scores been high, the results
would have looked more favourable for the campaign.
EA: High | IB: High | BMI: High
The Emotional Attachment (EA) to the Ford brand was high.
Voter’s attention on Ford was far from dubious: a raucous
character with a history of controversial incidents. Love him
or hate him, Ford had more than our attention; he tapped in
to our emotions.
The Immediate Benefit (IB) of the Ford brand was also high.
Ford was positioned by his campaign as the individual to
lead a change in the way our city runs. Dissatisfaction with
the status quo was Ford’s communicated benefit.
It is no surprise that the Brand Memory Identity (BMI)
of the Ford brand was high. His message was simple,
repetitive and effortless. As a result, the memory retention
of the brand in the mind of the voters was high. Whether
you think of his contentious AIDS remarks or the his now
infamous “gravy train” reference, the name Ford involuntarily
makes us use our brain power to think about him.
“A brand that captures your mind gains
behavior. A brand that captures your
heart gains commitment.”
OF ANY PROCESS
THAT LEADS TO
A DECISION HAS
LESS TO DO WITH
MORE TO DO
will continue to be
more about how
you say things
rather than what
The value of a strong brand should not be underestimated as it
will play a crucial role in who Toronto’s next mayor is.
What will the results be of the next election?
We will find out in 4 years or less - depending on how nice the
2010 elected officials can play with one another.
Politicians who take their brand seriously and integrate its
experience into the campaign will come out on top.
Findings from market research should not only be used to guide
the platform of the candidate, it should be used to form a strong
brand experience by applying the data to better the score of the
EA, IB and BMI.
Online and mobile technologies will evolve which will introduce
new ways of communicating and transmitting information.
Here are some recommendations on how to incorporate
Experience Design (XD) into future political campaigns.
1. Come up with the policy at the beginning of the
campaign. Decide on where the candidate stands on
issues. These issues should be tested beforehand for
relevance, emotional response and campainability.
2. Divide the advertising and marketing of the candidate into
advertising and marketing of the issues instead. This results
in creating micro-campaigns and micro-sites. The main
objective of these campaigns should be primarily to create
the highest level of emotions in the electorate to the issues.
The secondary objective should be to have a clear call to
action (CTA). This can include visiting a site or sending an
e-petition to an MP or rival candidate. The final objective
of these micro-campaigns is to introduce the candidate.
The issues should be vague and have a populist or general
appeal attached to them.
3. Decrease resources and time spent on demographic
targeting and instead allocate resources on medium-focus
advertising. Ethnocultural communities don’t live in isolation
nor do they form their opinions in their own groups. How
the ethnocultural community accesses media should be the
focus. This election has shown that Toronto’s ethnocultural
communities access information in the same patterns that
“mainstream” communities do.
4. The candidate’s site should be concise. The site should
not function as an information portal and instead be
positioned as a showcase of the micro-campaigns that were
instigated on the candidate’s behalf. Research has shown
that users retain 20% of written content on sites further
illustrating the short attention span of the voter.
5. Continue to focus on social media but understand that
up until now, its conversion rate has been really low. As
such, these avenues should be used to promote the micro-
campaigns and act as an influencer to strengthen brand
loyalty. A successful campaign is more than just getting
attention and having a lot of followers.
6. This election has shown that traditional media such as
street posters, direct mail and radio play a big role and
should not be overlooked. Research has shown that radio
still has the highest ROI from any other media. Direct mail
was an extremely useful tool for fundraising at the onset
of the campaign but its effectiveness decreased as the
campaign continued. Research has shown that e-mail
marketing has a better CTA rate than direct-marketing.
Perhaps a two-pronged approach would work best - initially
launch direct mail and then only send e-mail marketing call to
7. Information about the candidate and his/her issues should
only be made available via downloadable PDFs - site real-
estate should be reserved for the promotion of the
micro-campaigns. Resources should not be allocated to
print documents (brochures, postcards, etc…). Postcards
and brochures should only be used to promote the micro-
8. New and unique media buys are needed to increase the
emotional attachment to the micro-campaigns. Some
suggestions include bus shelters, taxi cabs, restaurants.
There should also be resources thrown at online media buys.
Twitter ad buys will prove to be pivotal in the next election.
Ahmad Ktaech is the founder of K & Co., an Experience Design (XD) firm from
Toronto, Canada. Ahmad was the Brand and Advertising Director for the Joe
Contact Ahmad Ktaech: email@example.com and follow him @ahmadktaech