Lessons of Scott Brown’s Senate Victory

The entire country has had its eye on the special Massachusetts Senate election, as the iconic Ted Kennedy’s seat became vacant. Both candidates had to rev up their marketing machines, given that they only had five months to get elected compared with the usual 18 months politicians usually have to prepare.

Out of the Republican gate, a virtual unknown candidate and onetime Cosmopolitan centerfold, Scott Brown, captured the hearts of college students, wealthy professional suburbanites, the working class and senior citizens and won the election.

How did he do it?

1. Image. Brown’s ads showed him driving a pickup truck, amping up his Massachusetts accent and donning a barn jacket, like he was on his way to grab a Dunkin Donuts coffee and a Boston Herald before taking the T to work. He was positioned as a family man, a man of the people, walking the streets of South Boston, calling up to a fan in a triple-decker. Quite a feat for a man with three homes.

Conversely, as Jon Stewart of Comedy Central’s Daily Show quipped, “Coakley went into the bar in Cheers and didn’t know anybody’s name,” referring to her inability to position herself as one of the crowd.

2. Smart media buys. Brown’s advisors were digitally savvy, buying targeted Google search ads and banners. Massachusetts-related blogs and news sites were replete with Brown ads. His team also took advantage of the January low-cost local television inventory, letting viewers from the Berkshires to Boston watch his commercials over and over.

3. Building community, and knowing how to reach the community. Brown did not limit his media investment to offline or online. His biggest investment was in human interaction, which ultimately became instrumental to his success. He made himself accessible at business events, in the neighborhoods, on talk radio and Twitter. His opponent was not willing to invest the time at the actual point of transaction — the voter. In turn, his supporters felt a part of the Scott Brown community, proudly using his campaign poster as their Facebook photo, phoning other voters one by one, and standing in the sleet on Election Day, holding a “Vote for Scott Brown” sign.

4. Taking the messaging high road. Brown maintained a message platform consistent with his campaign and image. He did not give in to the mudslinging tactics of his opponents. He stayed focused on his message and never swayed, even when the negativity heightened. He played up his warmth, joked about Coakley picking on his truck and came out on top.

5. Finding the right spokespeople. Coakley relied on the old campaign endorsement standbys: political stars like Vicki Kennedy, Boston Mayor Thomas Menino and even Barack Obama. Brown zeroed in on Massachusetts sports stars, heroes that appealed to the workingman, like Doug Flutie and Curt Schilling. Adding to the star power, it didn’t hurt that Brown’s daughter, Ayla, was an American Idol finalist a few years back and his wife is a local TV news personality.

Given that Brown was elected to finish out Ted Kennedy’s term, politicians campaigning for Brown’s seat in 2012 should study this historic shake-up and remember what worked for Brown and didn’t work for Coakley. The win was about taking the best tried-and-true political marketing techniques and leaving the tired and old school ones behind.

Andrew Graff is CEO of Allen & Gerritsen in Watertown, Mass., and chairman of Boston’s Ad Club.

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