William Comcowich
William Comcowich

Companies are conducting polished PR and marketing campaigns this year urging Americans to vote. These “go vote” messages appear on corporate and brand websites, on social media and in email messages. Some brands place slogans on their merchandise.

A few have created dedicated websites loaded with information on voting. Some are sponsoring advertisements that promote voting. ViacomCBS, in partnership with the Ad Council, launched Vote For Your Life, which encourages early voting with television, radio, website and online video ads.

At least a few, such as Patagonia, are giving employees paid time off to vote or even work at the polls on Election Day, according to AdAge. Others, like concert venue operator Live Nation, are opening their properties for use as voter registration or polling sites.

The messages seem to be working, as long lines for early voting are evident at polling places in many states and volume of mail-in ballots is the highest ever. Many companies are planning last minute campaigns to reinforce the “go vote” message among their employees and communities.

Getting creative

Some brands took a creative approach in their pro-vote campaigns. Light-hearted content may be effective in motivating young people, known for low voter turnout rates. Dating site OkCupid released an online video that, mimicking a political attack ad, portrays Trevor, an attractive, apparently appealing man who’s actually undesirable because he doesn’t vote. “America—Don’t be a Trevor.”

Reddit launched its UP the Vote campaign, a play on the term “upvote.” Redditors upvote posts to signal their approval. Content on Reddit, it notes, receives an average of 165 million votes per day, but the 2016 presidential election only saw 140.1 million votes, representing just 63 percent of eligible voters.

While most of the marketing campaigns are nonpartisan, some brands take stands on issues. Outdoor-gear brand Patagonia, which has long touted environmental causes and railed against climate-change deniers, placed tags in women’s and men’s shorts, reading “Vote the a[**]holes out.”

PR’s responsibility to educate citizens about voting

PR practitioners have a responsibility to educate their fellow citizens about the importance of voting and their voting rights, some communications professionals argue.

“Communicators know how to collect, organize and disseminate information to make sure everyone is equipped to make the most out of any [voting] opportunities they have,” said Dan Lewerenz, staff attorney for the Native American Rights Fund, at a webinar sponsored by PRSA’s Diversity & Inclusion Committee.

Their communications skills are especially valuable. Voting this year may be more complex than ever. States enforce a hodgepodge of various regulations for filling absentee ballots and voting early.

PR and marketing pros can visit Vote411.org, sponsored by the League of Women Voters, to find state voting rules. Voters can use the site to check their voter registration status, find polling places, see what’s on ballots and find other information.

A more skeptical viewpoint

At least a few take a cynical view toward the go-vote marketing campaigns. The tactic offers an affordable, non-controversial way to project an image of a civic-minded corporate citizen while staying top-of-mind with customers. But many brands, especially those offering upscale products, send messages to affluent or middle-class voters who probably already plan to vote, Christopher Mann, a political scientist at Skidmore College, told The Atlantic. They don’t send the messages to poorer Americans who are less likely to vote and less likely to buy their products.

The effectiveness of the voting campaigns is unclear, as there’s little research on the topic, Mann said, but he estimates they have only a marginal impact.

Lack of time poses the main roadblock to voting, The Atlantic noted. Working-class Americans face long, inflexible hours and long lines at the polls. Depending on the state’s laws, employers may or may not give them paid time off to vote. Uber, which promoted voting in marketing messages, is giving its employees Election Day off to vote—but offers no incentive to its drivers.

Glean.info supports the “Get out the Vote” campaigns and urges all PR professionals to join the effort in communicating with their workforces and communities—especially in the last week before elections. It’s not too late for a last-minute push. Agency owners and department managers can provide employees a couple of paid hours off to vote and encourage them to do so.

Bottom line: Brands are undertaking concerted PR and marketing campaigns to encourage people to vote. Campaigns are often creative and are sometimes supported by concrete actions.


William J. Comcowich is Glean.info Interim CEO and member of its Board of Directors. Schedule a Free Online Demo of the Glean.info Media Monitoring & Measurement Dashboard.