A campaign that changed the face of Political Advertisingby Julian Gratton
On October 29th 2008 a 30-minute infomercial entitled ‘American Stories, American Solutions’ aired on virtually all of America’s TV Networks. This infomercial was the glittering jewel in Barack Obama’s Presidential Campaign and garnered him over 30 million viewers and significant news coverage around the world… largely due to the $3 million it cost to air.
Obama’s Campaign, though, was newsworthy for more reasons than just this 30-minute infomercial. He was the first Presidential Candidate since John F. Kennedy to embrace a new medium successfully. In Kennedy’s case it was television… in Obama’s it was Web 2.0 and in doing so he changed the face of Political Advertising.
Carrying on the good work done by others.
Obama wasn’t the first American Politician, though, to use Web 2.0 to conduct an election campaign. In 2004 Vermont Governor Howard Dean made political fundraising history by using Social Networks to both raise money and arrange ‘meet-ups’ amongst his followers so they could conduct effective canvassing.
Dean’s campaign, although unsuccessful in electing him, showed Politicians around the world that the Internet could be used effectively to raise money and mobilise support. It certainly showed Obama’s Campaign Team that if used effectively and as part of an integrated online and offline marketing strategy… Web 2.0 could be used to organise supporters, advertise to voters and communicate with both the masses and with niche-markets.
So what is it that Obama’s Campaign Team did? Well, they harnessed the power of some small important places to communicate with millions and strengthen Obama’s ‘Change’ message by making him into an agent of change… and here’s some of what they did:
Harnessed the power of YouTube
Both Obama and McCain’s camps realised quickly that online video could be a powerful tool. For McCain it helped him deal with the massive funding gap between him and his rival… in fact it was a conscious decision of McCain’s Campaign Team to put more investment into YouTube. So they must have been proud when their video ‘Dear Mr Obama’ became the most-viewed election-related video with over 11 million views.
Obama’s Campaign Team, though, were not to be outdone. They actively encouraged Americans to create their own videos in support of his campaign. Many of these caused a big impact in a short space of time due to their sheer humorous nature, like Obama Girl, which was made by a group of filmmakers with lip-synching by model Amber Lee Ettinger.
In the clip posted on YouTube, Obama Girl shows her affection for the Presidential candidate by singing a song that highlights his campaign promises. Lines like “You’re into border security. Let’s break this border between you and me” amused people so much that the video quickly attracted over 10 million viewers and garnered a huge amount of news coverage for its light-hearted nature.
Obama’s YouTube masterstroke came in the final days of the campaign when his team placed ‘Les Misbarack’ on the video sharing site. The video shows Obama’s campaigners lip-synching to a song from the musical Les Miserables called ‘One More Day’. As well as being responsible for an increase in ticket sales for Les Miserables, the viral video gave Obama’s campaign one last push as it was emailed around America and promoted for free on a variety of TV stations.
Harnessed the power of Social Networks
Obama’s years as a Community Organiser is Chicago allowed him to see the usefulness of Social Networking sites. He understood that people are more likely do things for you if a request to do so comes from a friend rather than a distant authority they don’t know or trust.
Early on in his Presidential Campaign, Facebook co-founder Chris Hughes joined Obama’s campaign and helped in the creation of myborackobama.com. This fully-fledged Social Networking site quickly became the most successful Social Network start-up ever. Rather than just letting people find similar people in their area that had the same political beliefs, mybarackobama.com had some very clever things up its sleeve to raise money and mobilise support:
Register to vote and recommend a friend. So you can pledge your allegiance online and create an electronic mailing list of your friends for the Obama campaign team to contact.
Obama news widget. So you can get the latest campaign information in your area right to your desktop.
Make calls. Click the ‘Make Calls’ button where you’ll receive a list of numbers not yet called so you can call and spread the Obama message across the country. The system allows you to make reports on each call you make so the campaign team can asses where their campaign hotspots are and where they need to increase their focus.
Text messages. Allowing you to receive campaign updates in your area to your phone as well as Obama themed ringtones that means everyone will hear the Politician cry “yes we can” every time someone calls you.
Donate. Where you can either make a one-off donation or subscribe and ‘give a little every month’. You can also attach yourself to your friends that you have recommended and collectively have a donation thermometer where you can set a target amount for you all to raise.
Not missing a trick, his team also created Obama a Facebook page as well as presences on MySpace, Twitter, MyBatanga, MiGente and AsianAve to name but a few. On Facebook alone Obama garnered over a million supporters whilst McCain could only scrape together about 200,000.
More citizens volunteered time and money to help the Obama campaign than any previous Presidential Candidate. Thanks largely to Social Networking, he attracted more donors than the entire Democratic or Republican party nationwide. Almost half of Obama’s unprecedented $639 million in funds raised from individuals came from small donors giving $300 or less.
Harnessed the power of Niche Marketing
If you’ve ever been to America, one thing that can’t escape you is what a culturally diverse country it is. There are approximately 17 million eligible Latino voters in the United States and many of them live in what are more commonly known as‘Key Battleground States’, such as Colorado, Florida, Nevada and New Mexico. Obama’s Campaign Team knew they would have to target what are essentially niche targets with something a little different.
By sponsoring sites like amigosdeobama.com the Campaign Team were able to connect with Latinos and create an online resource for Latinos to connect with each other and share their thoughts on Obama’s campaign promises. They also released a single called ‘Obama Reggaetton’ which received a huge amount of radio play on Spanish stations and was available to download from a multitude of MP3 sites.
Sites like amigosdeobama.com and vivaobama08.com allowed the Campaign Team to also position Obama as a self-made man who went to college thanks “to student loans and a lot of effort”. The idea was to position Obama as someone with a personal career that could be just like many Latinos.
Harnessed mobile phone marketing
Americans love their cell phones. You only have to walk down any street in the US and you’ll easily see people chatting away on their handsets or walking in front of you with a phone proudly displayed in some kind of holster that’s worn like a gun.
Obama’s team knew that harnessing mobile technology, from basic text messaging to Smartphone applications was another medium they had to exploit to ensure the success of their campaign… but like their YouTube campaign, they did their mobile marketing with their tongue firmly in their cheeks.
People who gave up their phone number received ‘serious’ messages that sent them a ‘vote reminder’ and a number to call to find there nearest Polling Station. But they also got sent media messages that included a mash-up of Obama’s speeches to a funky beat as well as Obama themed ringtones… all simply to ensure Obama’s message was heard wherever you went.
A true multi-media campaign
The examples mentioned here are just the tip of the iceberg of what has to be the most innovative and clever Presidential Campaign of modern times. It seems that almost every Internet technology available in 2008 was utilised by the Obama Campaign Team.
There were video podcasts of Obama’s campaign spots and speeches available through iTunes, photos and photo mosaics available on Flickr and categorised links to videos, photos and facts on human search engine Mahalo. The team also created a website called OpenSecrets.org that profiled campaign funds raised and spent during the presidential election campaign, and Truth Fights Back – a site dedicated to responding to smear attacks and slander made against Barack Obama.
If Obama fails in everything else he promises to change, one thing is for sure; he and his team have changed the face of Electioneering and Political Fundraising forever.
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