Barack Obama’s Mobile Success


IphoneADOTAS EXCLUSIVE — In the lead up to today’s inauguration of Barack Obama as the 44th President of the United States, much has been made of his embrace of technology, perhaps more so than any incoming president in the modern political era.

His campaign fully utilized the Internet for fund raising, communications, as a key component to what was arguably one of the most successful campaigns (as measured by the popular vote and Electoral College totals) of the last few decades. During the transition, the president-elect has not only made use of well-established technologies like You Tube to communicate with the American public, but he has made clear his intention to make a real and substantive commitment to nurturing the growth of technology and innovation by announcing his intention to appoint a national CTO.

But perhaps the most impressive aspect of Obama’s embrace of technology has been his use of mobile technology, which has not just been limited to his beloved Blackberry. His campaign’s use of the mobile Internet demonstrated a sophisticated understanding of the power of the mobile medium that many in both the technology and marketing worlds have not yet fully grasped.

This embrace of mobile has continued after his Election Day victory—leading up to the inauguration, in fact, the Obama transition team sent emails to supporters encouraging them to send text messages to get information about inaugural events, both in D.C. and in their local area (in case you’re interested, you can text OPEN to 56333). But the Obama team’s embrace of mobile marketing began long before his election, with what can only be described as a brilliantly executed mobile campaign.

Capitalizing on the buzz generated by the lead-up to his vice-presidential running mate pick, the Obama team asked supporters, and those who were simply curious, to text a short code message to the campaign, with the promise that they would be the first to find out the name of the running mate—via text message, of course.

As a result, the campaign collected millions of mobile phone numbers (according to an official statement)—a rousing success by any measure—while continuing to solicit phone numbers through its other campaign activities. According to Nielsen Mobile, the announcement via text message was the single largest mobile marketing event ever, with more than 2.9 million text messages sent. But this was just the tip of the iceberg.

The campaign didn’t stop at text messaging, although that was perhaps the most striking example of its embrace of mobile. The Obama team also put together a mobile Internet site. And notably, the campaign supplemented that with an iPhone “Obama” application—to the almost audible applause of techies—where iPhone and iPod Touch users could have one-button access to campaign information, volunteer, and donate time or money, among other things.

Unlike collecting lists of email addresses, landline phone numbers or the old standard—direct mail marketing, or PC-based Internet marketing, the mobile Internet is perhaps the most effective way of connecting with new supporters (or customers) and keeping in touch.

For one thing, mobile technologies like text messaging and the mobile web represent an immediate call to action—avoiding the need to boot up a PC and often even eliminating the need for log-ins or other impediments to successful engagement. Mobile also represents a personal, nearly instant, way to reach people since most people carry their phone with them all the time, and consider it an integral part of their daily lives.

Finally, the Obama campaign’s mobile strategy is an example of the fact that collecting mobile numbers and information via smart marketing tactics is instantly opt-in, avoiding many of the pitfalls of traditional email or direct marketing—most notably privacy concerns and incorrect email addresses or phone numbers.

The Obama campaign’s mobile marketing tactics allowed it to capitalize on the energy generated at campaign events—with mobile providing a perfect channel for motivated attendees to instantly connect with the campaign via the mobile Internet. They even implored attendees to text message three acquaintances directly from campaign events to encourage family and friends to join the Obama movement. Once it had collected millions of active mobile numbers during and after the running mate announcement, the campaign continued to use text messages and its other mobile Internet properties to fundraise, mobilize volunteers, and alert supporters about events in their local areas—even solicit Red Cross donations for victims of hurricane Ike.

And perhaps most importantly, the campaign used its mobile Internet presence to activate supporters on Election Day, reminding them to vote and to encourage friends and family to do the same.

So, as Barack Obama takes the presidential oath of office, it is likely that most marketers and advertising executives will not be thinking (too much at least) about what lessons they can learn from his campaign. However, when it comes to its use of mobile technology, there are many potential takeaways from the Obama approach. If nothing else, the Obama campaign showed, for all to see, that mobile marketing works.

There are numerous examples that corroborate this assertion, but the Obama example may be the most striking and, no doubt, the most well-documented and transparent. The mobile Internet strategy didn’t win the election, but it helped mobilize supporters with unprecedented effectiveness and tapped into word of mouth and buzz, and the ability to capitalize on that buzz.

For the most part, the tactics employed by the Obama campaign’s mobile strategists can be easily translated to business. But, as I’ve always said, success marketing on the mobile Internet takes experimentation and innovative thinking. It’s about finding the right mix of techniques and tactics.

For the Obama campaign, text messaging combined with an easily navigable mobile web site supported by mobile banner advertisements was most effective. For most brands, the best mix will likely ultimately be a mobile Internet site with traffic driven by mobile banner ads. But one thing is for sure—mobile marketing works—just ask President Obama.

— Express your opinion, comment below.


  1. Only one problem with translating this success to the business — like just a slight difference in the significance of the product and hence its importance to the consumer. I think a larger than usual portion of the electorate really believed that this election represented a watershed that would significantly affect their lives for years to come. I don’t see a lot of other products out there that offer the same driving need.

  2. Interesting piece…but I’m not sure I buy in as fully as you do that mobile marketing was all that successful.

    Maybe another way of saying this is — let’s see more facts.

    The one example that you site was regarding the number of people that wanted to know about the choice of V.P. Beyond this fact most of your comments are…well…a bit vague and not substaniated with any data. I have no doubt that mobile had a role in the campaign — whether it was as critical and important as you say…I’m just not sure.

  3. This Article is theory because the Obama website was not set up for .mobi and they did not even have a .mobi website.. or a switch sitting on the .com site. So… I agree with the several of previous posters that this is NOT an accurate article. But, what do I know I have only been hanging around starting with ARPA Net since 1974… and have learned that if you can’t back up your talk with stats and where they came from that it is probably theoretical and you SHOULD STATE IT IS AND NOT A FACT!

    rod cook


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