31 March 2008

The best imitation of myself

I had an interesting conversation today with a couple of political campaigners on the use of the internet in the current US primary campaigns. The gist of the conversation was how in pre-internet campaigns, the biggest change in tactics was the introduction of Madison Avenue marketing techniques, including print, TV and mass-mail campaigns, and the triumph of style over substance. However in this campaign the extensive use of email and YouTube has allowed candidates to reach out directly to the electorate and deliver a raw and unedited message like never before. This has benefited Obama as more time and attention is now being given to full speeches, and his strength as an orator overcomes the 'politics-as-soundbite' style of previous campaigns.

One interesting and unpredicted effect of Obama's web-savvy and success at internet fund-raising that I have noticed recently has been its influence on more traditional non-political marketing tactics. Obama, like Howard Dean before him and Ron Paul for the Republicans, has made good use of email as a way of building a collective sense of ownership of the campaign amongst donors, urging them to join together with like-minded individuals to contribute matching amounts, staff virtual phone-banks from their homes, and donate small amounts to win the chance to dine with Barack himself. The typical Obama email has a combination of text, links to contribution sites, videos from the campaign, and a familiar box in the top right hand corner with the graphic of the day illustrating the key message of the mail, normally in the form of a challenge for the reader (raise XX by Y date, sign up XX donors by Y time). When the goal is reached another mail is sent and everyone feel personally connected to the campaign by participation in the achievement of that goal.

Now take a look at a recent mail that arrived from 'The Nation' magazine. Look familiar? 'The Nation' has adopted Obama's fundraising style nearly verbatim, issuing a challenge to potential readers to boost subscription and help fight the good fight. The combination of a personal story similar to Obama's tale of grassroots community campaigning in Chicago that started most of his early mails (not unlike the personal testament story that many evangelicals use as an opening gambit in their quest to save heathen souls), the sense of a community of shared hopes and ideals and a final plea for direct funds from the reader as enabling rejection of money from special interest, lobbyists and big business are almost a cut-and-paste of any Obama mail.

While there is some considerable overlap between the readership of 'The Nation' and the Democratic electorate and as such the Nation's mail is almost certainly a tongue-in-cheek reference to Obama's campaign, if successful it will be interesting to see if this community-challenge/campaign-building marketing tactic spills over into more mainstream advertising campaigns.

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