The campaign that cost JM his presidency
On one side was a twice warmed-over candidate in the twilight of his political career. And on the other side, beneath the umbrella, was the youthful incumbent with the newly minted acronym, J.M (Junior Moses).
If ever there was a David and Goliath contest, this was it. When the fateful day (December 7) arrived, the defeat meted out to the NDC and their flag bearer was catastrophic; a tsunami tidal wave swept throughout the country, leaving belly-up NDC members out of parliament. Their defeated presidential candidate returned to his lair at Bole Bamboi to lick his wounds.
The question that needs to be asked is: What went wrong? In politics, campaigning begins the day after inauguration. That’s when you begin to lay the foundation for your campaign message come the next election.
Effective campaign message is not devised retrospectively (after four years), but rather proactively: if you set the policy right from the get-go, the politics and messaging will follow effortlessly at the end of the four years.
Campaign and attention
In political campaigning, attention is key. And you grab that attention by the efficacy of your messaging. The NDC messaging was its Achilles heel. The number one criterion of political messaging is that it should resonate with voters.
To get the base on fire, you have to connect. If you fail to connect and get the base passionate about your candidate, you suffer the consequences of “Enthusiasm Gap”; that leads to voter apathy (as in the Volta Region).
In the end it boils down to ground game energised and intense foot soldiers moving from hamlet to village and pounding the city pavements.
Remember the general who haplessly asked “Na my mouth be gun?” NO!! But in communication your language is as lethal as a gun. It can move the listener into action or leave him completely indifferent.
The NDC messaging did not seem to have any particular demographics in mind.
Their communication ignored E.M. Foster’s simple admonition “Just Connect”. And while they were busy “transforming lives’’, the NPP guys gave the voter monosyllabic (forgive me) words; “HOPE” and “CHANGE”.
Of course, if you don’t understand “HOPE” then there is no hope for you. This was a campaign of contrast, the messianic achievements of Junior Moses leading the poor people of Ghana to the promised land of Circle Dubai. As compared to the basic mundane promise of one dam, one dry Northern village; and one district, one factory. Even the language used to communicate the diverse messages was a study in contrast.
The NDC was highfalutin and flowery, while the NPP was sparse and simple (“change’’ and “hope”.) Both the formulation of the message and its delivery made it impossible for potential voters to own it. There was no visceral resonance. This added up to the incoherence of the messaging by the NDC.
Efficacy of message
Did they conduct any polling to assess the efficacy of their messaging? DEV.COM. could have helped. In short, the campaign team lacked a viable communication strategy to propel Junior Moses across the Red Sea. Policy formulation is cerebral, but political campaigning is visceral.
You have to “just connect”. If you fail to do that, the people will take to the streets and sing “Mahama Onaa po”. The NDC campaign exercised a high degree of message discipline. They stayed focused on the message. Unfortunately, it was the wrong message either because they lived in an economic bubble or just because they were myopic. They believed their own narrative of Circle Dubai in Ghana.
While the NDC team was on a wild goose chase, the NPP was busy pounding the pavements promising shovel-ready jobs and cottage industries. The NDC was engrossed in a campaign of Reality Distortion. They believed that a big lie was much more compelling than the ordinary truth. Subsequently, they claimed that Nana Akufo-Addo would move the capital from Accra to Kyebi. Why not Akropong, its closer to the airport!
But annoyingly, the Ghanaian voter had become more discerning than the NDC campaign team assumed. The medium is the massage.
In other words, whatever medium (Radio, TV, Print) you use to disseminate or propagate your message, that medium will invariably influence or “massage” the message. If you want to express sadness on TV one tear drop will do. On radio, wailing and gnashing of teeth may be more appropriate.
Thus when J.M wanted to signal the achievements of his government, he gave the Usain Bolt ‘iconic’ pose, hand pointing to the sky (or in this case Dubai).
In politics, perception is key. Drive through the streets of Accra, and predictably there pops up, every six yards, glossy larger-than-life portraits of J.M. (Junior Moses) with a select bevy of political virgins from the Aburi Mountains to Korley Klotey.
The message is clear; ‘power sweet’ and ‘money swine’. Juxtaposed against Mahama’s larger-than-life posters are Nana Akufo-Addo’s tiny black and white faded pictures.
The message is clear: obscene wealth as against promise of an equal and fair society. The core message of the NDC was situated in the stratosphere, high above the reach of the ordinary Ghanaian voter. Circle Dubai in Ghana, the overhead bridges directly over the heads of the forgotten Kayayos furiously fending off mosquitoes and rapacious rapists.
Is this the picture of the promised land? It is not accidental that it took a comedian from Nigeria to enumerate the esoteric pie-in-the-sky achievement of J.M. (Junior Moses?)
Vulnerable Centre of Gravity
The once socialist NDC over-delivered on the wrong items and under-delivered on the essential ones. In electioneering, you look for the losing party’s Vulnerable Centre of Gravity (VCG).
In the case of the NDC, the VCG was a total disconnect between its message and intended recipients. Predictably, the centre caved in and things fell apart.
And now, last but not least, is the Jujitsu move, a time-honoured campaign technique where one uses the opponent’s own words against him.
The day after the election, I drove from Aburi to Akropong and witnessed hordes of people dancing to the catchy tune of the NDC campaign song “Mahama Onaa Po”. I couldn’t understand why the NDC supporters should be dancing in the face of defeat. I was told that those singing and dancing were Nana Akufo-Addo’s supporters who were using NDC songs to put the nail in the coffin of the NDC campaign team that lost its way to the voting booths.