Thursday, March 5, 2009

Capturing the Hearts and Votes of the Millenials

You’ve all probably heard this story or read it somewhere, the one of how Barack Obama transformed the presidential campaign by reaching out to the young. It’s a compelling tale and has many lessons for all of us. The speakers were at an Ad Club DC lunch yesterday. They talked about the campaign's use of technology, advertising and mobile marketing to win. Here's who talked:

Andrew Noyes, a reporter for Congress Daily who writes on technology and government and writes the award winning Tech Daily Dose blog for the National Journal.

Greg Pinelo, of Washington's GMMB, one of the lead Obama campaign agencies. Greg was one of the people staying up all night to create new ads to air in battleground states the next morning.

Jeff Lee, the President of Distributive Networks who worked on the Obama mobile marketing campaign.

Here’s a summary of some of the best information they gave.

Andrew Noyes

Harnessing social media - Obama was the first national candidate who understood the power of Web video. He was on all of the social networking sites – My Space, Facebook, YouTube, more than a dozen sites in all.

Mobile volunteering - To make it easier for volunteers to work on the campaign they asked and got an IPhone application that let people organize their contact lists for battleground stakes. So volunteers could get a phone list by email and call anyone, anywhere. The campaign even had its own ring tone.

Let your voice be heard – The campaign team knew that it had to talk to the young the way they communicated. Obama modeled his campaign after the social networking world – creating a citizens' briefing book so people could keep up to date on the campaign and allowed a lot of opportunity to comment. This created the same two way dialogue that this generation has in social media.

Noyes’ question though and one that no one has answered is was this new openness found in and now in the new White House web site and really two way communication?

What did the campaign do with all the comments it received? Did it really gauge what people were saying, and adjust strategy based on feedback? It has never answered this question.

My personal experience was the comments didn't get answered, and I don't think they went anywhere. I wrote to the campaign multiple times – I am a PR person after all – and suggested approaches, etc. The answer was a canned message which all of the candidates had saying thank you, your voice has been heard, we can’t answer everything, and thank you again. One thing is certain, if it was all smoke and mirrors in terms of two-way communication it still worked.

New web sites encourage our participation – The Obama administration continues with its policy of openness, such a refreshing change after 8 years of talking points and non-answers. An industry has sprung up monitoring government sites such as,,

Here are some of the new monitoring sites to check out:

Show Us the Data – You can ask for federal government reports and information on this site.

ChangeTracker - An experimental new tool that watches pages so you don’t have to. When the White House adds or deletes anything ChangeTracker will let you know.

The Sunlight Foundation – Which demands transparency in government. It’s current campaign – "Read the Bill."

Greg Pinelo

His talk was on branding the presidency. The brand promise was encapsulated into four words which were emphasized in ads and speeches. I've included links to YouTube videos so you can see how the messages were used.

Change – Obama will change government and the path of the nation

Unity – Obama is someone who can unify the country

Honesty – Obama will tell you the truth even if it’s not good news

Hope – We can all do better.

Pinelo also talked about how it was easier with Obama because he was really, really good at delivering these messages. He said every time McCain changed course or a new attack ad came on they would revisit these four core messages and create something to reinforce at least one of them. That is smart marketing. And that’s why Obama seemed so rock solid and McCain who changed his messages it seemed like almost daily, sounded like he didn’t know what to do.

Jeff Lee

This pioneer in mobile advertising made a compelling case for why it was a great strategy to reach the young. Here is part of it.

There are almost 263 million cell phones in the United States.

People have them with them 19 hours each day.

The majority of text messages are read in 15 minutes and responded to within 60.

The numbers for the young are even higher.

Obama’s mobile strategy was very straight forward. He committed to this channel early and controlled it. They leveraged mobile’s unique strengths. They were careful about the number of texts they sent out – and conscious that people reached had to pay for them.

Two key things the campaign did was build their opt-in list and develop robust participant profiles. They got information on mobile users by putting their call to action everywhere – people filled out cards at Obama events, they ran mobile information in their ads, they screened text messaging codes behind Obama at campaign speeches.

The list was so well built that when they texted people to tell them they planned to announce Obama’s VP choice in real time (so mobile users could get information the same as everyone else) the opt-out rate was only 2-3%.

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