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How GOP Candidates Are Changing Their Game to Engage Millennials

Marketing and politics have a lot in common. Both are focused on messaging, branding and connecting with an audience—which, these days, particularly means millennials.

During a presentation called “Rare Liberty: Reaching Millennials Through Politics” at Advertising Week XII on Sept. 30, Vincent Harris, founder and CEO of Austin, Tex.-based digital strategy firm Harris Media and digital media strategist for U.S. Sen. Rand Paul’s presidential run; Benny Johnson, creative director of politics and news website (short for Independent Journal); and John Fugelsang, comedian and host of Tell Me Everything on SiriusXM Insight Satellite Radio discussed how 2016 Republican presidential candidates are facing an uphill battle in targeting the young and powerful demographic. Here’s how they’re working to get millennial audiences engaged in the 2016 election:

  1. Create viral moments.“When you watch the debate, you’re not looking at the screen,” Johnson says. “You’re looking at Twitter and what your friends are saying on Facebook. You’re watching the comedy around the debate.” Thus, produced real-time Vine videos to engage younger audiences. When Carly Fiorina made a jab at Donald Trump in the second Republican debate on CNN, for instance, the team created a Vine of the two candidates’ comments with Taylor Swift’s song “Bad Blood” playing over it. “It speaks to the way people are getting their political news these days, and it gets views,” Johnson says.

The digital efforts for Sen. Ron Paul’s campaign take the same approach, Harris says. “Forty-five percent of people who engage on Sen. Paul’s Facebook page and his social content are 18 to 34. The most common person who visits is on a mobile device, and is 25 to 34. Millennials expect niche news that’s personalized, entertaining and pithy. These people would rather be looking at cat GIFs on BuzzFeed or pictures of Kim Kardashian’s rear than they would talk about policy issues, so every day, we’re thinking about having news for Sen. Paul that’s fun and entertaining within the context of serious policy issues.”

  1. Look beyond the stereotypes.“There’s risk in assuming that millennials are one giant monolith that thinks the same,” Fugelsang says. “The fact of the matter is urban millennials have much more in common with 45-year-old urbanites than they do with a 24-year-old rural, single mom who happens to be a millennial. One thing that unites millennials, generally, is that they don’t show up to vote. That’s the real problem. It’s more about getting people involved.”
  2. Engage today’s social stars. “Barack Obama’s appearance on Between Two Ferns[to promote the Affordable Care Act] is the future,” Harris says. There’s a whole subculture of YouTube stars and they’re content creators. People sell time on those shows. Most of those shows have more subscribers than Bill O’Reilly [has viewers]. That’s how young people are getting their news and information.”This article was originally published in the October 6, 2015 issue of Marketing News Weekly​​​​.​

Author Bio: Christine Birkner is the senior staff writer for Marketing News and Marketing News Weekly. E-mail her at

Categories: Marketing.