Why some political mailers are so much more effective than others

The election is less than two weeks away, and voters across Minnesota are opening their mailboxes to find it overflowing with political mailings.

Despite all the advancements in technology, mailers remain one of the most cost-effective ways to target specific voters in legislative races. They can be sent directly to the homes of registered voters, ensuring the message is delivered. And they can also be sent to targeted lists, with a message tailored based on information collected from polling data or focus groups.

While the mailers will always end up in the intended mailbox, how do organizations sending the mail get voters to actually read them? And, more important, how do the designers of the mailing make sure the voters are motivated to vote based on the information delivered?

I’ve been involved in the design of hundreds of different political mail pieces in the last 20 years, and I’ve seen how they can make or break a legislative campaign.

It is a complicated process, probably more complicated than people realize, involving polling, message development, mail design, and voter targeting — all aimed at getting the right message to the right voters at the right time. And in recent years, as it’s become more expensive to mail the messages, more emphasis is placed on the overall design, with campaigns and political organizations focused on legislative races now producing the sort of high-quality mail pieces that were once only seen in presidential or statewide campaigns. 

So what makes for a good one? Well, for me, one example of a particularly effective mail piece this cycle is from the Minnesota Action Network, a political action committee chaired by former U.S. Senator Norm Coleman that has been sending mail targeting key members of the Minnesota Senate DFL Caucus over their past support of MNsure. 

In the last few weeks, of course, the state-sponsored health-care exchange has become the top issue in legislative races, as Minnesotans who purchase coverage through the exchange learned they are facing premium increases of more than 50 percent.

The mail from Coleman’s group targets numerous DFL senators, including State Sen. Lyle Koenen, who is featured in grainy images while sitting in committee hearings at the Minnesota State Capitol, squinting or with his glasses on the end of his nose. Along with the pictures of Koering, there is also a picture of a father sitting with his daughter, presumably struggling to figure out how to pay for the rising costs of the family’s health care.

Political mailings are designed to create an emotional reaction, and the father-daughter image — juxtaposed with the images of Koenen looking menacing — is what makes this mailing so effective. 

It helps that the DFL’s reaction to the health-care issue seems like it was tailor made to prove the mailer’s point, with Senate Majority Leader Tom Bakk calling for a special session and specifically raising concerns about Minnesota families’ ability to pay for the rise in premiums.

Indeed, success in politics is all about timing, and Minnesota Action Network’s message on MNsure works so well because it’s being validated every day with information in the news — a critical component in the success of most paid political messages.

MNsure is likely to remain the top focus of legislative campaigns, because of the daily developments at the Capitol, but also because of mailings put out by the likes of Minnesota Action Network. 

Will it work? We’ll know in two weeks.

Comments (6)

  1. Submitted by John Ferman on 10/27/2016 - 11:52 am.

    Political Surveys

    This season if my caller ID machine indicates, I do not answer political calls. But in the past I have always lied. I would never tell he truth to any political survey.

  2. Submitted by LK WOODRUFF on 10/27/2016 - 12:01 pm.

    This ad is awful

    I agree that mailing notices can be highly effective.

    This ad doesn’t do a thing for me, If I rec’d it in the mail, I’d toss it immediately without giving it any attention. It’s dark, dreary, lacks any ‘action’, has little color. The words stressed are ‘government’ and ‘bureaucrats’, and the image of the older white male is large and appears menacing. Adding a small picture of a Dad and child looks like an afterthought.

    In no way does it show a positive message, nor does it show a candidate working together with others, which is what most voters long to see. We are sick of the obstructionism and partisan nonsense!! The bullying. The attempts to destroy others who don’t share a political ‘vision’.

    The REPs just don’t get it. And this election cycle shows that in spades. They are all about being menacing and threatening. They try to control through intimidation. They toss out words like ‘family values’ but their ads and actions show what they are really all about (power, money and control, now and forever.) They need to step way back now and spend the next YEARS being introspective. To learn and understand where they have gone way off track and how they have alienated so many. How they have destroyed their own party. Why they will lose in large numbers on Nov 8th. You tick off the women – you lose bigtime. And Trump has now sealed that fate.

  3. Submitted by Donald Skoe on 10/27/2016 - 01:12 pm.

    Effective all right

    If I received this ugly ad it would motivate me to go out and work to get Mr. Koenen re-elected.

    Just as the ugly, hateful and misleading flyers I’ve received about Mr. Nolan have motivated me to go out and work for his re-election.

    This kind of thing only lowers the tone of elections and causes voters to feel negative about the process. We have one splendid example of negativity in this election and don’t need any more. I only hope our republic can survive this “election” and return to a semblance of functional government.

  4. Submitted by Joel Stegner on 10/27/2016 - 02:20 pm.

    Boring pack of lies

    Perhaps the epitome of an ideal Republican ad – misleading and fear-mongering..

    So, Republicans, what was the purpose of MnCare? To provide access to health insurance among Minnesotans who didn’t have it. As a result, our uninsured rate was more than in half. This is probably a good outcome, of course, as a Republican you only care about yourself. Fact is, many Republicans who lose jobs have access to healthcare coverage at a cost that they can afford. The rate increases – they are not what most people who get subsidized care actually pay.

    The subsidy increases to make sure that coverage continues. If you make more than $80,000 a year, you might not get a subsidy, but perhaps you can afford it. And of course, before these increases, Minnesotans were paying less a month than other states. We are more efficient here, but as some things like high cost prescription drugs have their price jacked up 3-4 times to increase profits, someone needs to pay.

    Ads are obviously about winning elections. However, if the truth of the claims is not a factor in determining how good an ad is, we have sunk to a new low. Curious but the Republican operative author didn’t manage to find an effective DFL ad. Not consistent with his goal – positive spin for his party in an election where they need all theh help they can get.

  5. Submitted by Sheila Ehrich on 10/27/2016 - 03:03 pm.

    TV ads

    Notice how the voices in the TV ads against Angie Craig and Terri Bonhoff just keep getting more and more menacing and how the same picture just keeps getting made darker and more ugly as we get closer to the election. Jason Lewis and Eric Paulson must buy into Trump’s philosophy that people (i.e. men) won’t vote for “ugly” or “nasty” women. Fortunately, as Sen. Elizabeth Warren puts it in an ad, “We nasty women DO vote.” And usually there are more of us voting than men.

  6. Submitted by Peter Swanson on 10/27/2016 - 11:03 pm.

    Typo? Freudian Slip?

    Koenen or Koering? “…including State Sen. Lyle Koenen, who is featured in grainy images while sitting in committee hearings at the Minnesota State Capitol, squinting or with his glasses on the end of his nose. Along with the pictures of Koering…” BTW, no fair correcting and deleting this comment.

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