Direct, Simple and Personalized Messaging

Backers of Measure 79 won the day by following the marketing maxim of stressing benefits instead of features by helping voters see how this initiative affected them.Measure 79, which put a ban on real estate transfer fees in to the Oregon Constitution, was pronounced dead before the November 6 election, yet somehow managed to pass with a 59 percent majority.

The Salem Statesman Journal ran a story a week or so before the election citing an opposition poll conducted by a reputable Washington, DC firm. The poll showed the measure losing 54 percent to 31 percent.

The poll relied on a sample of 600 respondents, which is appropriate for a statewide survey in Oregon. And the results were based on reactions to the actual ballot title, which is what voters read on the ballot.

Defend Oregon, which opposed Measure 79, predicted the $6 million spent by supporters, primarily the National Association of Realtors and the Oregon Association of Realtors, would be for naught.

"It seems clear that Oregonians have seen through this dishonest campaign," Scott Moore, a spokesman for the opposition, told Peter Wong of the Statesman Journal. "Oregonians are pretty skeptical about attempts to amend the constitution, especially when they are paid for by big, out-of-state interests."

Moore's point about big, out-of-state money certainly was underscored by the thumping of Measures 82 and 83, which would have amended the state Constitution to allow privately owned casinos. However, Measure 79 passed, earning more votes in the process than President Obama.

Nationally, big spending didn't guarantee election-day victory, as exemplified by the dismal showing of candidates backed by Karl Rove and his massive SuperPac. In battleground states, Rove's big money was trumped by what political operatives call a ground game – direct voter contact at the doorstep or by phone, email and social media. But Measure 79's supporters didn't have the soldiers to mount a massive ground game. In fact, the campaign's strategy was to wait until voters were paying attention before saying much of anything.

The core of the campaign turned out to be a trio of TV ads with a common message – Oregon doesn't need another tax on housing. Their victory was a triumph of simplicity.

Opponents could say, accurately, there already is a statutory ban on real estate transfer fees and that no jurisdiction was on the verge of proposing one. But one of pro-79 TV spots produced by Portland-based ad agency Cappelli Miles featured a man and wife, who were actual homeowners, discussing how another tax could make it harder for people to buy or sell a home in an already depressed housing market. Pow.

Whether you agree or disagree with the assertion, you have to admire how it cut to the bottom line, while plucking a significant emotional chord.

The Yes on 79 website prominently displayed a calculator that made it easy for people to enter their home value and determine how much tax they could owe if there were local and state real estate transfer fees. Another straight-to-the-point, personalized political message, which was conveyed in part by the campaign's "social media squad." This adheres to the marketing maxim that it is better to talk about benefits (or threats) than features.

After Measure 79 passed, Defend Oregon said on its website the pro-campaign was "one of the most cynical and misleading campaigns Oregon has ever seen. It's unfortunate that the measure's backers refused to have an honest conversation with voters."

The evidence is to the contrary. The electorate got the message Measure 79 supporters sent about how this measure could affect them. It is a reminder that direct, simple and personalized messaging still works.

[CFM was not involved in the campaign for or against Measure 79.]