Belfast Telegraph

Tuesday 29 July 2014

DebateNI home of Northern Ireland politics

DUP using negative marketing means they have to be lucky at every Assembly election, Sinn Fein have only to be lucky once

DUP leader and First Minister Peter Robinson
DUP leader and First Minister Peter Robinson

I’ve been in sales and marketing for over 25 years – and it seems like only yesterday since I started, and you know what an awful day yesterday was, goes the joke!

During that time I’ve participated in countless training courses on selling, mostly run by sales people who found out they could earn more by selling ‘selling’ to salespeople, rather than products or services out in the open market.

Like most professions, over the years you learn some key rules that never change – Good sales people know a sales discussion should be in the same ratio of your mouth to your ears i.e. in terms of how much you should be speaking and listening. When you get into difficulties in a discussion – ask a question, as this gets the other person talking, and allows you time to think etc.... (incidentally this is a good rule to follow in all walks of life!)

One other key rule is that you can’t keep marketing a negative. This is were you say ‘Buy my product, as it’s not as bad as the alternative product’, instead of selling the good points of your own product. Applied to the recent beef crisis in our supermarkets you could see this occurring were Supermarket B could have said ‘Come to our store as our beef is probably less contaminated that the beef in Supermarket A’.

Yes, this can work in the short term, particularly with avid beef lovers, but what mostly happens with this sort of negative marketing is people eventually give up on beef altogether, and start buying chicken from Supermarket C.

The DUP ran with this negative marketing during the campaign for the 2011 Assembly election, saying vote for us or else you will get a Sinn Fein First Minister. There was little mention of the merits of Peter Robinson as First Minister, or the DUP policies on health, education, or the economy.

Yes, this worked effectively in terms of frightening a part of the traditional unionist vote in 2011, but will it work at the next Assembly election, and the one after? What tends to happens when you keep using this negative marketing approach is that people will get turned off by this continual negative line, and will adopt a more ‘Shrug-Shoulders’, couldn’t care less attitude, about who is First minister at Stormont. Plus, as per above, they could also start going to a different supermarket altogether – in political terms this could be not voting at all, an increasing problem as far as the unionist electorate is concerned.

Political parties increase their vote by enthusing people and providing them with a hopeful vision for their future, not saying vote for us because the alternative is worse! Look at Barack Obama’s re-election campaign in 2012 – all hope, vision, and a ‘Yes we can’ attitude.

Interestingly his campaign presented very little detail on policy, but then that’s not what counts in political campaigning. As the largest party in Northern Ireland, I would suggest the DUP should start selling what they see as the positive aspects of their record on the doorsteps, and provide some vision about what they see as Northern ireland’s future.

There’s also another difficulty with negative campaigning – If you’ve nothing positive to back it up, then you have to rely on it to keep on working for you, and this isn’t easy. If the DUP keep on using this negative line then they will have to rely on it frightening a significant part of the unionist electorate at every assembly election. To take a well known phrase from another situation – Using this tactic, the DUP have to be lucky at every Assembly election, Sinn Fein have only to be lucky once.

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