The recipe for a good campaign? Impossible to sum up in a single blog post. But after several years of campaign planning, I’ve noticed one particularly critical element – in addition to the traditional “do the groundwork, understand the target audience, communicate in an engaging way” – that affects success.
In a nutshell, it goes like this: Stick to your guns, don’t soft-pedal it.
Put more broadly, the idea is this: once the good groundwork has been laid, the framework and the creative core of the campaign have been refined, it’s often a matter of deciding on the more specific details. For example, choosing campaign faces, writing the video script and creating a production plan, or finalising the ad copy. This stage should not be underestimated, as this is where you create the design visible to the audience.
It is sadly often the case that, although ambitious outlines have been drawn up at the planning stage, they do not reach the recipient. In the actual production phases, the bottom line is lost, or decisions are made on a tighter schedule or with a smaller budget than planned.
Soft-pedaling is about rounding corners too much
A practical example: the Ministry of Social Affairs and Health, in cooperation with other ministries, ran a campaign to encourage people to vote in the run-up to the county elections. The starting point for the campaign was challenging, as the elections were of little interest to voters, and the subject seemed both difficult and distant to many. Therefore, a bold and evocative approach was sought from the outset to ensure that the target group would be genuinely engaged and spend time on the campaign content – even through surprise or humour.
As a result, the decision was made to produce a lot of non-traditional advertising material for different target groups – including startling and surprising commentary videos with Antero Mertaranta (target group: adults and sports fans in the provinces) and entertaining and ironic meme images (target group: young people, newly eligible voters).
The execution sparked a lot of debate – how much can the ministry make use of entertainment? Is meme-irony appropriate? Does the campaign lose credibility?
This is an excellent question to pause on for reflection. In the discussions, we circled back to the baseline we set at the beginning of the planning process: the starting point was that the county elections were of little interest to the vast majority of Finns. So we needed to attract attention in order to reach the public. As the elections were the first of their kind, raising awareness was the most important objective. Hence, choosing a course of action that would understand and address the public’s preconceptions and then address the target group based on those preconceptions was more beneficial.
This means that the creative idea behind the campaign was not soft-pedalled but was courageously backed. And it paid off! The campaign materials performed better than average, and people enjoyed the content. For example, 97% of the longer campaign videos were watched to the end, which is an exceptional figure and shows that the chosen approach worked.
The memes also received positive feedback: “This ad [meme] made me vote. The idea that the ministry has made a targeted social media ad for young people with a meme deserves to be seen, and I would be surprised if you don’t vote after seeing this,” commented a popular social media influencer on their account, among others.
Most importantly, the campaign achieved the desired action. A post-campaign impact study found that the campaign prompted up to 37% of the main target group to engage with the county election topic – either to find out more or to vote directly. The final turnout is the sum of many components – but it was ultimately higher than predicted.
Reasoned courage separates the wheat from the chaff
Understandably, today’s debate climate does not encourage evoking overly strong emotions. On social media, negativity gets a boost, and the criticism can be very consuming.
When it comes to campaigning, I encourage a sense of reasoned courage. It creates clear and exciting campaigns that make a lasting impression.
Bold campaigns are also rewarding for the campaigner: the results are often better. There is also likely to be more debate on the choices made, which is not inherently bad, but a valuable addition.
Even a critical debate is not a bad thing when there is a sound basis for the decisions behind the campaign. Having solid justifications (ideally written out in advance) gives you peace of mind in the heat of campaigning. They also provide good tools for making the campaign more interactive: “Yes, that’s a good point. But here we went for (solution), because (reason)”.
In a world where people encounter between 4 000 and 10 000 marketing messages daily, depending on how you count them, it takes a lot for campaigns to get noticed and remembered. That’s why, after good planning, it’s essential to keep a cool head and stay boldly on track. You rarely remember the halfhearted ones.