What I learned from managing digital campaigns for PN during the 2022 Maltese Elections?

What I learned from managing digital campaigns for PN during the 2022 Maltese Elections?

I had the privilege to manage most digital advertising for Partit Nazzjonalista during the 2022 elections in Malta. It was a tough job, especially considering that the incumbent party, Partit Labourista had significantly more resources and support than us. If you are interested in how much money we (and PL) spent on digital ads during the 2022 electoral campaigns, please refer to the transparency reports of Google and Facebook. I will not disclose these numbers here.

Public perception of both parties

PL started with a significant disadvantage, as there in 2020 there were a group of people called “Blue Heroes” who outed the party leader of that time.

From the article of MaltaToday:

Nationalist Party MP Jason Azzopardi has published the names of the 17 members of the PN parliamentary group who want Adrian Delia to step down. Under the tagline, 17 Blue Heroes, Azzopardi published mugshots of the MPs, including himself, who last week called on Delia to consider stepping down from being a leader.

This made the party look shaky and unstable and in general, it was a really bad move. Furthermore, the party has been tainted by names not exactly popular among most Maltese, such as Jason Azzopardi or Manuel Delia. These and similar characters belong to a past, they are from times when Malta had an entirely different zeitgeist.

Possible this is the biggest challenge Partit Nazzjonalista has right now. People in, and surrounding PN do not it the current zeitgeist. Regardless of how much I wanted them to win, with this setup, it’s nearly impossible.

Meanwhile, Partit Labourista demonstrated rock-solid togetherness, unity, smiles, fun, messages about love, and forward-thinking – traits that make them look strong and suitable to keep governing Malta.

Campaigns don’t change public opinion much

Long prior to the election, we were doing surveys and research both internally and via external research companies to understand voting intentions and to identify segments and cohorts we can target. The initial electoral surveys predicted a very similar outcome compared to the final results.

Once the election was called, we rolled out a quite complex system of ads, targeting different age groups and demographics with different messages, campaign promises, etc.

At the same time, Partit Labourista had only two main ads. One is a rather unfortunate – creepy – photo of the prime minister Robert Abela, and another was showing the headquarters of Partit Nazzjonalista cracking and breaking into two.

While we were trying to fine-tune our targeting and make sure that the complex system worked, they kept pushing these two messages: strong PL, and weak PN. They did not even care to roll out a manifesto in time, just came with vague promises that they will implement 1,000 ideas. Later they released these ideas.

Most political advertising is money down the drain

Lots of money was spent on both sides, and it hardly changed anything. Quite a few times during the campaign I was very sorry about the money paid to Google and Facebook, especially knowing that it will not change much. It could have been used for better purposes, or not spent at all.

If I had a political party, possibly digital ads would be the last resort. I would focus on being involved in the progress and maintaining a positive and useful image during the years spent in opposition. 

Very similar things happened in Hungary too, where a somewhat popular and promising opposition managed to fail miserably by advertising idiotic political messages and putting out political ads that were extremely poorly done.

Success depends on public acceptance and people

One thing I learned both from the Maltese and Hungarian elections is that people vote for people, their leaders, and not for their ideas or ideology. In my opinion, ideologies should be entirely excluded from politics and political campaigns. 

Many of our survey results showed that voters prefer a leader who they feel confident with. Manifestos, promises, etc are nothing. They want people to lead the country who they like, and they feel strong.

The 2020 fiasco of Partit Nazzjonalista definitely did not strengthen this image.

What could have been done better?

The next time I will be involved in political campaign management, I will push for a significantly more simplified system of messages, that promotes strength, togetherness, and confidence.

For negative campaigns, I would use other means of communication instead of paid ads. These are the two things I would consider next time.

Otherwise, our campaign was executed perfectly from a technical point of view. The campaign team was top-notch and very professional and we worked with what we had.

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