Presidential debates offer brands chance to reach millions

The first presidential debate of this ‘silly season’ was meant to be broadcast this evening, but it was cancelled last Friday because the 2 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 imaging 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 ceased for the opportunities they offer. At the Super Bowl in 1984, 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 the 24th of July during the presidential debate.

If you miss this opportunity, not all is lost, because there will be a set of presidential debates organized 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.


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