How Brands and Agencies Are Trying to Increase Voter Turnout This Year

As the election looms, get-out-the-vote messaging is ramping up

Photo of Sophia Bush and a Vote From Home 2020 promotional image
Brands, for the most part, have historically gone the nonpartisan route when encouraging people to vote. Courtesy of GAP, Vote From Home 2020
Headshot of Minda Smiley

Key Insights:

Brands and agencies are turning their focus to increasing voter turnout for this election cycle by reminding people to register and providing them with information on how to do so.

In many ways, it’s a marked shift from the 2016 election where marketers were more content to stay on the sidelines or fall back on humor. Now, many are focused on getting messages out about the importance of voting and are leaning into taking a stance on cultural issues.

“Public demand for companies to be active leaders in celebrating democracy is higher than ever before, especially among the young generation,” said Carolyn DeWitt, president of Rock the Vote, a nonprofit dedicated to mobilizing younger voters.

Research shows that voter turnout messaging can be effective. According to a study conducted by the Harvard Kennedy School, Get Out the Vote programs established by eight companies in the lead-up to the 2018 midterm elections “not only helped get more voters to the polls but also helped raise brand awareness.”

Politics meets marketing

Brands, for the most part, have historically gone the nonpartisan route when encouraging people to vote—and for good reason.

Pinar Yildirim, assistant professor of marketing at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School, said nonpartisan campaigns “stand a higher chance of achieving success—not only are they less risky for brands, but they may also have higher return to the effort put out.”

“It’s much harder to persuade individuals to change sides,” she continued. “But it is possible to remind individuals to vote or put social pressure on them to vote.”

However, a number of nonpartisan Get Out the Vote efforts not-so-subtly appeal to demographics typically sought after by the left. Intermix, a designer clothing brand owned by Gap Inc., celebrated International Women’s Day earlier this year with a campaign starring actress Sophia Bush, a vocal critic of Donald Trump, that encouraged women to register to vote.

Both Yelp and Gap Inc. are part of Brands for Democracy, a division of Rock the Vote. With help from Rock the Vote’s technology, customized branded websites have been created that make it easier for people to register and access other voting resources.

Earlier this month, Gap unveiled a campaign called “Stand United” to amplify its voter registration efforts. The effort includes limited-edition voting-themed apparel designed by Stephennie Factor, a member of the company’s African American Networking Group.

Gabrielle Friedman, senior manager of government affairs at Gap Inc., said that the company’s “commitment to becoming more inclusive” explains its extensive voter turnout push.

“The state of the world today has made that a much bigger task and made that something that we feel like is a bigger deal this year,” Friedman said. “A disproportionate number of voters of color report experiencing barriers.”

Yelp, whose CEO has publicly supported abortion rights and gun control in recent years, is also setting its sights on voter turnout ahead of the 2020 election. With help from its community managers, which run roughly 350 local social media accounts for Yelp across U.S. cities, it will encourage followers to register and share updates on deadlines.

Miriam Warren, svp of engagement, diversity and belonging at Yelp, said this year marks the company’s “biggest push around voter registration and turnout” to date.

This story first appeared in the Sept. 14, 2020, issue of Adweek magazine. Click here to subscribe.

@Minda_Smiley Minda Smiley is an agencies reporter at Adweek.