What Can Political Campaigns Learn From Obama's Use of Digital Marketing?

In 2008, the Obama digital marketing campaign revolutionized communications between politicians and the electorate. Using fifteen different social networks, Obama communicated the message “Change we can believe in” to five million supporters, and drove fifty million viewers to his YouTube channel.

The Obama digital marketing campaign was not only innovative, it was effective. The way in which the mobile marketing was structured allowed the brand to evolve while maintaining a clear call to action. The campaign listened, asked questions and built relationships.

In 2012, the Obama digital marketing campaign evolved to a new level. Taking advantage of “Click-to-Donate” group text messaging, 80% of the $639 million dollars raised towards Obama´s reelection campaign came from donations that were 20 dollars or less. 

New strategies were employed to humanize the President through iconic quotes and “Share with a Friend” images. Opt-in opportunities were maximized to increase campaign donations and supporters, while individual sub-campaigns were tailored to show how Obama was in touch with specific issues.

What Can Political Campaigns Learn from Obama´s Use of Digital Marketing?

Whereas the Obama digital marketing campaigns of 2008 and 2012 showed how to “do it right”, the primary White House candidates in 2016 made notable errors in their campaigns, or failed to take advantage of opportunities offered by group text messaging.

  • Republican nominee Ted Cruz invited supporters to text long keywords (“Constitution”) or keywords that were not yet paired with a short code (“Imagine”) to join his group text messaging service. By comparison, President Obama´s “Click-to-Donate” campaign used the keyword “Give” and was ready to receive donations.
  • The campaign team for Donald Trump reigned in its use of group text messaging after its unsolicited “Help Make America Great Again” text was send to millions of people who had not opted in to receive messages in support of the President-Elect. The campaign´s violation of consumer laws has resulted in a lawsuit being issued.
  • One of the reasons why Bernie Sanders lost the Democratic nomination was his failure to engage minority demographics. His cause was not helped by relying heavily on a smartphone app (“Hustle”) to drive his mobile marketing strategy - excluding potential voters that did not have access to a smartphone.
  • According to some voters subscribed to Hillary Clinton´s mobile marketing campaign, the overuse of group text messaging during the campaign was irritating. Although many found the “Texts from Hillary” meme amusing, some commentators observed that the frequent requests for donations were getting on people’s nerves.

Key Takeaways from the 2016 Presidential Election

Although the strong use of emerging media in the 2008 Obama digital marketing campaign has been credited with contributing to President Obama´s victory, it is unclear whether the use - or non-use - of group text messaging affected the outcome of the most recent Presidential election. There are certainly some key takeaways that politicians at all levels should heed:

Keep it Simple

Asking voters to text keywords that some may not be able to spell, or asking them to text a keyword to a short code with which it is not yet paired, are schoolboy marketing errors. As with all marketing to the masses, the KISS principal is always the best to use.

Keep it Legal

Group text messaging is a permission-based activity and has to comply with the Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA) 1991. Failure to do so can result not only in legal action, but also in a suspension of the service and a loss of credibility.

Keep it SMS

Even though smartphone ownership in the US has doubled over the past five years, more than 30% of the population does not have access to Internet-enabled devices. Communicating via SMS group text messaging will ensure that everybody has access to your message.

Keep it Relevant

Whereas the Obama digital marketing campaign focused on President Obama, listened to voters, asked questions and built relationships, Hillary Clinton´s political text messaging campaign was too frequently used to ask for money. Furthermore, the campaign detracted from the issues that mattered to voters with the introductions of a “Literally Trump” webpage and a “Trump Text” bot - amusing to some, but irrelevant to many.

Get Professional Advice about Political Text Messaging Campaigns

The 2016 Presidential elections will undoubtedly be remembered for reasons other than the errors in text messaging campaigns and the failures to use group text messaging to its greatest effect. However, there are some lessons to be learned from what went wrong and the attempts to circumnavigate laws put in place to protect consumers.

With planning already underway for the 2018 midterm elections, it makes sense to seek professional advice about political text messaging campaigns to ensure the errors are not repeated and group text messaging is used correctly to engage voters and generate support. In this respect we invite political representatives and campaigners to contact us to discuss proposed political text messaging campaigns.

Our team of Client Success Managers has more than a decade of experience providing advice and help to organizations of all types and sizes. We are confident that we can help you engage voters and generate support using compliant group text messaging and the principals put in place by the successful Obama digital marketing campaign.