The History of Industry Mediation in Campaigns
Political groups, candidates and civil society have always adapted their influence strategies to new technologies including the printing press, radio, television, email, social media and direct messaging channels. With each change in technology, the political processes change, too. This section explores how technologies and the mediators of our communications have changed the nature of influence over the last 100 years.
When political groups engage with technologies for the purpose of influence, they often engage with industry professionals. These technology experts don’t just play the role of controllers, but also have qualitative input into the content, frequency and style of messaging that happens through these channels. The professionals perform different functions in the political process: they might control and manage the use of the technologies, mediate between citizens' voices and political groups, or provide strategy and direction for how to engage with technology.
Questions to Reflect
If you think about a 'typical' political advertisement, where do you find the advertisement? What are the key features of it? What about if you consider a political advertisement from five years ago? How about ten? Think about your existing impressions of political advertisements as you continue through the section.
The role of mediators has changed as technology has developed:
Printing Press and Traditional Media
The development of the printing press made it possible to produce large quantities of newspapers and magazines to be made available to the public. The professionals that manage these print media are usually editors, reporters and journalists. The media can play various roles to not only communicate politicians’ values and policies, but also hold them to account. The accountability and transparency of political elites are integral to the functioning of most political systems.
Television and Radio
Media and journalism professionals also utilise the introduction of television and radio into homes through news programs. Furthermore, political campaigns and candidates changed their approach to political influence to incorporate visual elements that television provided. For example, political parties paid more attention to their clothes and the surroundings such as backgrounds at their conferences and the neighbourhoods in which they appear in interviews. Television and radio also saw an introduction of advertising space to be used by political parties.
In the United Kingdom, official radio and television broadcasts are called Party Political Broadcast. Parties are not allowed to purchase advertising space; instead, they are allocated broadcast slots free of charge on broadcast channels using a formula set by Parliament that ensures a fair distribution across different parties. Below you can see a political election broadcast from the Labour Party in 1997, an election year in which the Labour Party won by a landslide.
Labour Party Election Broadcast 28 April 1997, Source: https://www.youtube.com
PR and Advertising Consultants
A few consultants from commercial advertising were already engaged in political communications as early as the 1950s. Vance Packard described in his book, ‘The Hidden Persuaders’, how political strategies were designed to sell candidates to voters ‘like toothpaste’, and how public relations directors at the time boasted that ‘scientific methods take the guesswork out of politics’.
It became more popular for politicians to engage with these PR and private advertising agencies, and names such as Saatchi and Saatchi have been involved in politics. This not only led to more engagement with advertisers but also to professionals in political advertising. In 1960, for example, the Republican National Committee established their own internal advertising firm, Campaign Associates, “by handpicking ideologically sympathetic advertising executives from the nation’s leading advertising companies”
Platforms, Social Media, Websites and E-mail
Technology industry involvement in political influence from the 2000s is defined by the availability of e-mail and social media platforms, which allowed politicians in some ways to 'escape' the mediation of journalists and traditional press and to talk directly to constituents through their own email addresses or social media profiles and pages. In this environment, both traditional press and social media are used in conjunction with each other for political influence in what has been referred to as a hybrid media system.The progression of the role of mediating companies and consultants in political influence, Source: Tactical Tech
The Influence Industry and Personal Data
Data-driven technologies have created a new set of professionals employed by political groups to manage their communications. In this stage, personal data is collected and analysed to gain insights into constituents’ political beliefs. This process has become integral to the functioning of campaigns, in particular the use of personalised and targeted advertising. These techniques also focus on scale and quantified measures of success. Marketing consultants begin to play a much more substantial role in the political influence industry, alongside digital communications experts and data brokers.
Barack Obama's election campaigns for US President in 2008 and 2012 were heralded for their use of personal data. Data on voters was collected by door-to-door volunteers, consolidated with other private data sources, and analysed to produce scores for how likely someone was to vote for Obama, as well as on their general interests relating to politics, and from that deciding if and how to personalise content to be targeted to these segmented audiences.
How Obama’s Team Used Big Data to Rally Voters, Sasha Issenberg, Technology Review, 2012, https://www.technologyreview.com/2012/12/19/114510/how-obamas-team-used-big-data-to-rally-voters/
Chadwick, A. (2013). The Hybrid Media System: Politics and Power, 2012, https://oxford.universitypressscholarship.com/view/10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199759477.001.0001/acprof-9780199759477