Political marketing in an online election environment: short-term sales or long-term relationships?
The practical application of both political marketing as a concept and the internet as a campaigning tool share a similar time frame, with both gaining attention in the 1990s. However, apart from a few individual authors (Bowers-Brown and Gunter 2002; Jackson 2006), the two have not been generally pulled together conceptually. Indeed, Coleman (2001) was quite dismissive over the use of the internet in the UK 2001 general election, implying that because it only appeared to have been used for marketing purposes, and not to enhance democracy, that this was a less worthy use. Yet the construction of the so-called Web 2.0 era, which is based on a more interactive, bottomup approach (O’Reilly 2005), opens up new marketing possibilities. This chapter will seek to assess whether the internet is supporting an essentially sales-based political marketing strategy, or one based on longer-term relations that encourages dialogue and public expressions of opinion. We will do this by considering the relevance of the concept of online political marketing, a child whose parentage is conceptually political marketing and at a campaign level the internet. We will ﬁrst outline the relevant literature on political marketing and the internet, then introduce our methodology for examining how the internet was used in four elections between 2007 and 2010, covering four diﬀerent countries: France, the US, Germany and the UK. The main ﬁndings are summarized in the conclusion, and discussed with regard to their implications for the current state of online political marketing. We suggest that online political marketing describes the sustainable, goal-oriented and strategy-based
management of relationships between political actors and their stakeholders, by the means of new information and communication technologies. In essence, political marketing is a curious mixture of the application of marketing practice to politics online and oﬄine, especially electoral behaviour. It has been criticized for being neither true to politics nor marketing, but it can also be viewed as a discipline in its own right (Lees-Marshment 2009). In fact, the link between the two was ﬁrst made by Kotler and Levy (1969), who famously suggested that candidates used the same principles as marketers selling commercial goods. This principle has been debated for some time; we suggest that of relevance to our debate is an understanding of political marketing practice. Political marketing practice is not uniform; rather we can identify two diﬀerent approaches to
how political actors use marketing. The ﬁrst is transactional marketing where the political party
or candidate focuses on the immediate sale, or gaining the vote, which appears to be the dominant approach of politicians (Mauser 1983; O’Shaughnessy 1990; Johansen 2005). Indeed, Wring (1997) noted how easily traditional marketing applied to politics. This form of political marketing would use the internet as a one-way promotional tool. Transactional marketing has been challenged by relationship marketing, where the emphasis is on building longer-term relationships, which inherently requires two-way communication. Bannon (2005) suggests that as a service industry, politics applies a relationship marketing approach. Moreover, Henneberg (2002) argues that political marketing is moving away from a sales orientation, towards one which seeks to build long-term relationships with voters. This form of political marketing would use the internet as a means of facilitating such dialogue (e.g. in blogs, discussion forums or chats). Potentially, the internet provides a simple and cost-eﬀective means of reaching external and internal audiences over a long period of time. This can have positive sideeﬀects on political participation in general (see Hardy and Scheufele 2005; Mossberger et al. 2008), which Henneberg and O’Shaughnessy (2010) suggest may encourage citizen re-engagement with politics. From a conceptual viewpoint, the linkage of the internet to a transactional marketing
approach is associated with the static content of websites used within the Web 1.0 era (e.g. information about the candidate, party or election programme, campaign paraphernalia, etc.). However, the inherently more interactive approach implied within the Web 2.0 era suggests that relationship marketing is more achievable. The rationale is that with Web 2.0 the stress is on gaining feedback, and interacting within an ‘architecture of participation’ (O’Reilly 2005). Web 2.0 makes it easier for parties to encourage interactivity, since they can build on the technical infrastructures and services that are already established, such as Facebook, Twitter and MySpace. This is a ‘rational choice’ for them as they do not have to rely on inventing anything from scratch. Recent literature suggests that in the era of Web 2.0 the internet oﬀers a means of enhancing the relationship between those seeking election and voters (Anderson 2007; Chadwick 2009), though often the reality is that participation is used for the purposes of endorsements, aiding brand management as opposed to relationship management (Jackson and Lilleker 2009). It is through private and targeted communication by email or e-newsletters where attempts are made to build relationships with supporters (Jackson 2006). To assess which forms of participation are currently employed in American and European elections, we will summarize the present state of the discipline and explore ways of measuring diﬀerent approaches in online political marketing.