Despite nearly 8% unemployment, a tepid economy and millions of dollars in negative advertising, President Obama managed to pull off a sizable Electoral College win on Tuesday.
While Obama’s 2008 campaign is now seen as a real-world demonstration of the power of social media, his operation four years later was much more complex. The ’08 campaign is the stuff of textbooks, but the lessons of ’12 are brand new. Marketers of all types studied Obama’s ’08 campaign and they would do well to take a look at his subsequent mobilization effort. Here are some of the obvious lesson of Obama’s triumph this time around:
1. It’s the Big Data, Stupid
Big Data may have its flaws, but this election shows that it’s indispensable. New York Times columnist Nate Silver showed how crunching numbers can render most pundits’ gut instincts irrelevant. The Obama campaign proved the same for the marketer’s gut. As Time chronicled, the O campaign relied on a team of dozens of number crunchers who made predictive calls on exactly the right type of pitch to right the right type of voter.
After consolidating its database into one megafile, the team relentlessly tested pitches based on the targeting and learned from its testing. As the article states:
A large portion of the cash raised online came through an intricate, metric-driven e-mail campaign in which dozens of fundraising appeals went out each day. Here again, data collection and analysis were paramount. Many of the e-mails sent to supporters were just tests, with different subject lines, senders and messages. Inside the campaign, there were office pools on which combination would raise the most money, and often the pools got it wrong.
2. Facebook Advertising Works
There are lots of reasons to doubt Facebook’s assertion that ad units like Sponsored Stories are effective. For instance, the recommendation you see may be from a Facebook “friend” you actually barely know. You may find it creepy to see advertising intrude upon friendships as well. But in Obama’s ’12 campaign, Facebook worked. As Time detailed, the O campaign used Facebook to “replicate the door-knocking efforts of field organizers” on a mass scale. During the final weeks of the campaign, Obama’s supporters received pictures of their friends in swing states. They were then urged to click a button asking the swing state voters to register to vote, vote early or get to the polls. The campaign found that the tactic worked 20% of the time “in large part because the message came from someone they knew.”
3. All the Money in the World Can’t Overcome Bad Advertising
Super PACs supporting Mitt Romney poured millions into swing states to convince voters that voting for Obama and other Democrats would be against their self interest. However, as Slate points out, many of these ads were crude and insulted the intelligence of targeted voters. For instance, a Super PAC attack ad against Ohio Democratic Sen. Sherrod Brown “portrayed Brown as a demented cartoon, sitting at a desk with an ‘I Love Taxes’ coffee mug, rubber-stamping documents with an Obama campaign logo.” Though the ad was shown nonstop in that state, Brown still won by 5%. In addition to relying on the laziest cliches of political advertising (An “I love taxes” mug? Really?), the Super PAC ads often were so transparent in their motives that they rendered themselves ineffective. A couple of ads from Karl Rove’s American Crossroads Super PAC, for instance, showed a 40-ish white woman at her kitchen table sighing about how ineffective Obama has been.
In contrast, Super PAC ads going after Romney were more effective since they showed actual workers (or convincing versions of actual workers) who were angry about being laid off because of Romney’s work at Bain Capital.
Which ad do you think is more effective? Which one seems more real?
4. Social Media is Just One Tool in the Arsenal
Obama’s 2008 campaign achieved a lot of social media “firsts”: First use of Twitter by a presidential candidate. First use of texting, etc. But by 2012, there was no glory in being the first on a particular platform. Over four years, social media had matured to the point where it was just another medium. For the campaign, Facebook was an alternative or complement to marketing outreach via email or TV. Instead of exploring social media for novelty’s sake, the O team followed the data and then determined where to spend its money. As one number cruncher on the team told Time: “Why did we put Barack Obama on Reddit? Because a whole bunch of our turnout targets were on Reddit.”
5. It’s the Demographics, Stupid
It’s only been a day or so since the election, but already the conventional wisdom about the 2012 election is that the GOP failed by focusing too exclusively on white men. George H.W. Bush won the White House in 1988 with a 426-111 electoral college landslide over Michael Dukakis by garnering 60% of the white vote. Romney got 59% of the white vote, but in 24 years, the country had changed so much demographically that Romney was trounced in the electoral college. Marketers crafting campaigns would be wise to heed the observation of GOP strategist Chuck Warren who mused that “To be frank, we’re a Mad Men party in a ‘Modern Family world.”
Image Credit: BarackObama.com
More Coverage of Election 2012
Mashable explores the trends changing politics in 2012 and beyond in Politics Transformed: The High Tech Battle for Your Vote, an in-depth look at how digital media is reshaping democracy.
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