Onchan Disctrict Commissioners Election, July 22nd 2021,
a direct reponse copywriting & marketing breakdown.
Well, what a failure of modern democracy that was.
Local authority elections are never that hard-fought or engaging but this was bad even by normal standards.
In short, a group of candidates who largely didn't care reflected in an electorate who failed to show.
But first the elephant in the room.
Some people, who have been instructed to self-isolate with Covid, were unable to go in person.
"That's fine." I hear you cry,
"This is the 21st Century! Not the Victorian era! There are other ways to vote!"
Alas, dear reader, how wrong you are.
Sure, the other day I was in VR having a group meeting with people from Sweden, Germany, Canada & the UK about politics, but if I wanted to vote I had to get myself to the polling station.
On the hottest day of the year, during a pandemic.
Which has been going on for 18 months.
"But wait," you cry out again,
"What about the security risks of digital voting to maintain against election fraud!"
I would agree but the voting "security" is to give the presiding officer your name, address & a sequential 3 digit polling number.
That's right, no ID or any other checks, just a number that can likely be extrapolated from your address.
You could, quite literally, build a more secure digital system for people to vote remotely in a day.
Sure, building one that handles security, privacy, & fraud properly is trickier (I know as I'm part of a team doing so) but to do the equivalent digitally as we have IRL?
But we didn't.
For some reason, no one in government decided this was a necessity.
I don't know what effect this had on voting numbers, or if it was significant.
But, it was without a doubt the biggest failing in the "democratic" system we face.
Your government can forbid you to vote, at random, due to an event that has been ongoing for an extended period means democracy is not in action.
In short, that part sucks.
Not only because of how it prevents people vote, but also how it removes the feeling of relevance to voting in others.
But was that reflected in the voter turnout & actions?
Was it ever!
To be clear, I'm going to use Onchan as the basis for the following, as that's where I live & would expect to see the highest level of attempts by candidates to engage me.
To be clear as well, Onchan did not have the lowest voter turnout.
But, by election standards, it was very poor.
First some figures.
- 1710 people voted out of 7140 potential (23.95% turnout) with 5521 total votes cast.
- Each voter had 7 potential votes available but the average votes cast per voter was: 3.23
- In total, the potential votes (everyone votes & everyone uses all votes) was 49980
- That means the % of available votes cast was only 11.05%.
Now, time for another elephant in the room (getting a bit crowded).
There were 7 seats available & 8 candidates.
That means if everyone voted, ie 49980 votes were cast, the potential maximum difference between those results & results based on choosing at random with 0 people voting, would be 1 person out of 7.
Hardly the best motivation to make the effort.
So, what went wrong?
Well, "what else" anyway.
First of all, congratulations to Fenella Logan who was the only candidate to make anything resembling a proper manifesto & was the only one who appeared to make any real effort, resulting in coming 2nd overall.
The rest? Well, the bar of my expectations was low but wow, you really limbo'd right under it.
Out of 8 candidates, only 4 delivered a manifesto to my property. (Fenella Logan, Derek Crellin, Kathryn Williams, Anthony Allen).
Out of 8 candidates, only 4 had a dedicated Facebook page. (Anthony Allen - although the URL on his flyer for his FB page was wrong, Fenella Logan, Zara Lewin - though I had no idea who she was aside from a mention on Fenella Logan's flyer, Kathryn Williams.)
None that I saw had a dedicated Twitter page or a LinkedIn page as a commissioner (though a couple had personal pages).
None did any paid advertising through social.
None seem to have a website.
This is a big issue.
We are voting these people in for their ability to get things done, & a major part of that ability is their skills in getting other people to agree with them & act on what they say.
If they can't convince us to get out & vote, convince people who are already voting to just tick a box, how can they convince other people of anything?
But aside from all this, the lack of voter confidence in the system, the failure to do any real engagement with voters, the lack of both IRL & digital presence, for those who did do something, how well did they do with the material they put out?
That's it really, if you don't want to read about copywriting & marketing structures, user engagement & emotional triggers then you can stop now.
They all sucked, apart from Fenella Logan who did OK overall & was leagues ahead of the others.
We'll use the 4 flyers I had delivered to me & run through what you would expect from a marketing/sales piece vs what we got.
In particular I will compare Derek, Anthony & Kathryn's flyers, to Fenella's as the standout from the pack, then compare that to a "proper" direct response marketing & copywriting approach.
Just to be clear, I'm not saying their flyers & my interpretations of their methods reflect their skills in the role.
I am saying it reflects how well they engage with voters & get them to actually vote.
To begin with, you must understand, these are sales flyers they are giving out.
No different to an advert for double glazing, joining a gym, or buying a car.
Instead of selling you a thing, or a service, they are selling you the desire to get off your ass, go outside in the blistering heat & to make the effort to vote for them.
Assuming you are allowed to.
What they aren't selling is themselves.
This isn't Tinder or a personal blog, but several don't get that.
So, the very first thing with any sales piece is you should talk about the reader, their problem & how by doing "the thing" they can make this problem go away.
Here are some samples from the first 3;
Here's what happens when your reader reads this.
Mentally they say;
"So what? Who cares?"
Because the writer is talking about themselves, not about the person reading.
In these cases, all 3 use "I" sentence structures or talk about themselves a LOT.
When writing, this is easy to do as you think the reader cares about you.
After all, you're running for office, you've done all these interesting things, you care about stuff, so surely the reader will want to know?
Imagine you are at a bar. Someone attractive comes over to you & starts talking about themselves.
They don't say;
- "What's your name?"
- "Can I buy you a drink?"
- What did you think of Independance Day?"
(It's been a while since I've picked up people at a bar, cut me some slack here!)
Or anything to engage or understand you as an individual.
If they are good looking you might give them some slack, let it run on a bit, but even then it will get boring soon.
Other attractive people are walking past, other things to distract you.
Eventually, you get so bored you leave.
In the case of these flyers you stop reading, probably bin them, & forget all about them.
The only "attractive" feature of our candidates, in terms of when you see their marketing, is that they want the job.
Which, let's face it, is probably fairly stressful & not that exciting.
They aren't starting from a high level of interest.
3 of them kill that interest very quickly by just talking about themselves without any attempt to make it relevant.
Fenella's is different, both in style & by using a few linguistic tricks.
First, she doesn't talk about herself.
There's no personal history, no hobbies or interest, no waffle in that sense.
Secondly, when talking about what she will do, she avoids "I" sentence structures.
Instead of "I will work with Manx Charity "Isle of Play" she uses a subheading;
"how to implement"
"Working with Manx Charity 'Isle of Play'".
This is much better as it doesn't make the focus exclusively on the writer.
She uses this structure extensively, & overall has far more focus on policies than the other candidates.
In the others you have to wade through up to an entire side of a4 about them to get to any actual policies.
And I use the term policies loosely.
However, there is a trap in this approach, which she falls into.
It fails to hit emotions in the reader or to provide logical proof that can justify those emotions.
In her case she is hitting the factual information about what she wants to do & how, but doesn't attach the reader to the issues, or prove why she has to be the one to solve them.
This breaks the reader flow in a couple of ways.
- It forces them to think about the issue to see if it applies to them.
- It also forces them to think about the solution, to see if they would like it, & they think she can achieve it.
It sounds harsh, but the last thing you want your reader to do is to stop & think.
You want them to feel an emotion, then you want them to justify that emotion with logic.
This is something direct response copywriters, like me through work at #TheWetwareIA, do all the time to give people the drive to do "the thing".
Emotions drive, logic justifies after the fact.
So, how might this look?
I'll use the "Dog Park" example from Fenella's to create a very quick & dirty structure, without using the more advanced techniques I'd normally put in a sales letter.
"There are few things as unpleasant as dog muck in the middle of the path when you are out for a walk with your kids. You hear the wet "squelch" as they step in it, you end up scraping it off their shoe with a stick or wiping it on grass, everything smells & it just ruins your day.
Even if you are a dog walker who picks up their poo & bins it safely, it's a challenge to find safe places where you can let them off the lead without worrying a strange child will run to them, or they will see another animal to chase.
Imagine if there was a dedicated dog-walking park instead, & extra dog muck bins in other popular locations. If you don't have a dog you could walk your normal paths knowing that there is much less risk of stepping in something you don't want to.
If you own a dog, you would have a dedicated place to take them, & facilities to deal with their mess.
In 2020 there were X complaints by members of the public about dogs fouling public walkways, but only Y fines were issued. Just as I solved A by doing B during C, we will change this. "
First, we trigger some emotions, sensations, memories of the thing we don't want, in both groups of people we want to target. We hit several senses to bring that to the forefront of the mind.
Then we bring them mentally to a future where this is less of a problem, where they can see themselves happy again.
We tie that future happiness to ourselves & our actions, plus we throw in a couple of stats & logic to help the reader justify it to themselves.
This is a quick first draft to give you an idea, but that's how you present a solution in copywriting terms.
While on the topic of policies, every manifesto I've seen, including all the MHK ones released so far make another mistake.
They cram too many in.
They are trying to be everything for everyone so they talk about any minor issue & topic that a relevant person might be interested in.
They are either massively vague;
- "Roads paths & Pavements"
- "Law & order/traffic"
or there are too detailed with too many unconnected issues.
Both come from the same issue, not understanding your buyer, sorry, voter's main driver while being too afraid of not pleasing all of the people.
You need to understand the one thing that a large enough number of people REALLY care about.
What keeps them up all night or hammering away on Facebook?
What solution would they crawl over broken glass to the top of Snaefell to vote for?
We know turnout is low.
We know there is apathy in voters.
You need to break through that apathy by hitting the one thing that they care about more than anything.
But you can't do that unless you understand them.
Show, don't tell.
The first rule of storytelling.
Which gets your attention more?
"He was 3 times stronger than most men."
"He picked up the table with one hand, using it to push the 3 men across from him backwards, against the wall."
We don't want the reader to think too hard, but we want them to be able to extrapolate positive things from what we are saying.
When we hear someone talk about themselves we want proof.
- "I have proved to be reliable."
- "Team player which I am."
- "I will always be a keen advocate of our democratic right to vote."
Anyone can claim anything, & even if these vague assertations manage to trigger an emotional response, a "gut feeling", we need the evidence to back them up.
Without that evidence we get suspicious.
The same applies to the policies.
It's not a "doing X will solve Y" situation, you need to have an;
"I am the only person who can do X that will solve Y. Here's proof." approach.
This is one area Fenella's falls down.
Where the others are happy to talk about themselves without any justification, she fails to mention herself or cover "why me" at all.
So, for now, I think that'll do.
There is a lot more from a direct response copywriting & perspective to be broken down in these, from language patterns to photo choice, but I've kept you long enough!
Here's hoping the MHK's do a better job on their political material.
If they want voters to turn out, they need to.
To find out more about working with The Wetware IA, Book a consultation