Campaign Message Development: Use the Seven Cs

Message development

Campaign Message: Make a Winning Contrast - Use the Seven Cs 

When I was a student at American University in the mid to late ’80s I had some remarkable teachers. Joel Bradshaw and Peter Fenn taught me about campaign message with a method I have never forgotten.

They called it the Seven Cs. I am still a big fan of this method to remember the components of a good campaign message. If you can incorporate all seven Cs in your message you will be smooth sailing.

1. Clear
Make your message easily understandable. Use words that your audience use, not insider speak. How does your message answer the need folks have? 

2. Concise
A short well-crafted message will tell your audience more than a long-winded meandering message.

3. Contrastive
What is the difference between you and your opponent(s)? Can you make that clear in your message? Make sure your campaign message lets folks know why they should vote for you and not your opponent. Don’t shy away from a contrast even if it is a tacit contrast.

4. Consistent
Having a message is one thing—but sticking with it is another. Make sure you stay on message throughout the entire campaign. Don’t change a message because you are bored or you hear it a bunch. Chances are by time you are bored of your message, some voters are just hearing it for the first time.  

5. Connected
Messages are not formed in a vacuum. They are about the community as much as the candidate. Make sure your campaign message is connected with issues important to your base.

6. Coordinated
Your message needs be a part of everything you do, and it needs to be repeated in all the mediums you are using to reach voters.

7. Creative
Often you see a campaign message that is a collection of words that make little sense and bores voters to tears. Make sure your message catches voters’ attention.

Focus on a tacit or direct contrast 

When you boil it down, elections are all about choices. Voters are choosing this candidate or that one.  In order to convince voters to choose you, your political communications have to show why you are the best choice. The best way to do that is to make your point with a contrastive campaign message. In multi-candidate races you will likely need to make a tacit (indirect contrast). In a one on one campaign you will need to make a direct contrast. Be strategic on how you include 3rd party or less viable candidates in your contrast. Do not automatically ignore them. 

Context matters

It’s great to say, “I’m the best candidate! I’ve done all these great things and have all the experience!” but without putting that in context with respect to your opponents, it will more than likely fall on deaf ears. This kind of thing, particularly in a primary with multiple opponents, just feeds the “omnivore’s dilemma” of our electoral process: with so many candidates, how do we choose the best one? Do your voters a favor and tell them WHY in all of your political communications.

Contrast is not negative

This might seem like I am asking you to create a political communications program saturated with the dirty, negative political ads that everyone hates—no. You don’t have to throw your opponents under the bus to create a good contrastive campaign message. Does your opponent take a lot of money from lobbyists? You can be the candidate who will fight for your neighbors, not special interests. You’re not explicitly saying so-and-so is in the pocket of dirty scoundrels, you are making a distinction about your agenda for the office. Opponent just move to the district recently? You can highlight that you were born and raised here. You’re not saying they are a giant bag of carpet (though I have always wanted to do that mail piece), you’re pointing out aspects of your biography that set you apart. These distinctions matter, and more than that, they help voters make the right choice: you.


After using the seven Cs method and doing the message box, get your contrastive message down to less than ten words – try and write a 6 or 15 second ad with your contrastive message. 

Remember a real message will not be built in a day. Start early and involve your whole team. 

Have questions about message development or building a contrast in a campaign? Ask us! 

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