Lessons from the US 2012 Presidential Campaign


With the Democratic and Republication conventions behind us and the US Presidential election campaigns accelerating into the home stretch, I thought it would be a good time to see what lessons marketers can learn from the respective campaign’s marketing efforts.

In 2008, the Obama campaign launched what was the first truly digital marketing campaign, which was instrumental in their victory on Election Day. From the MyBarackObama.com social network, to the campaign’s use of YouTube, Facebook, MySpace and Twitter, text messaging, and user-generated content, some of it professional like will.i.am’s “Yes We Can” video, digital marketing brought out younger people in record numbers, both to volunteer for the Obama campaign and to vote, resulting in a decisive victory for Barack Obama (to be honest, the state of the economy in Fall 2008 probably had something to do with the election, too).

Fast-forward to 2012, and the Republicans have worked hard to level the digital playing field as we head into the final two months of the presidential election campaign.

So what can marketers learn from campaign 2012?

  1. Tapping into Trends: Tapping into trends has always been a great way to market a product or service. The Obama team proved this following Clint Eastwood’s speech at the Republican Convention with their ‘This Seat’s Taken’ tweet response. The challenge for most marketing organizations is to get approval fast enough in order to tap into a trend. When an opportunity strikes, a company needs to be nimble and streamline the (legal) approval process in order to tap into a real-time trend.
  2. Creating your own Content (or Content Marketing): From YouTube video channels to issue-specific micro-sites, the political campaigns have mastered the art of content creation. Each campaign creates issue-specific content, and even content to rebut their opponent when necessary. Not only are the campaigns creating a lot of issue-specific content, they’re also creating platform-specific content. The Romney team enables connecting with the campaign via Facebook, Twitter, Google+, Flickr, Spotify, Tumblr, YouTube and their mobile site, while the Obama team facilitates connection with the campaign through Facebook, Flickr, Google+, Instagram, a mobile app, Pinterest, RSS, SMS, Spotify, Tumblr, Twitter and YouTube.  Marketers can effectively create issue-specific content, particularly for issues which are important to the target audience and relevant to the product. Many Fast Moving Consumer Goods marketers have done a good job creating mommy-specific content, and all marketers should look to broaden these efforts where relevant and appropriate. Though marketers are adding newer digital platforms, most notably Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Instagram and Tumblr, they are correct to seek out some ROI justification for each digital platform. If you spread yourself too thin and do a lot of things across a lot of platforms, it can appear like you’re doing nothing.
  3. Meeting Customer Needs: The reason the political parties create their own issue-specific content is because each customer group has their own set of needs. With the Electoral College determining the winner of the election, the issues important in a few swing states will determine the election. And we’ll be seeing more and more content relevant to these swing states in the coming weeks. For years, marketers of products aimed at kids have faced the challenge of appearing cool to kids and appropriate to parents. A great way for a marketer to better segment their outreach is by dedicated specific channels to specific market segments.
  4. Target, Target, Target: If you live in Dallas, Texas or New York City, you’ll probably be seeing fewer and fewer ads (on TV) for either political campaign because the expected results are not being contested (though you might still see online ads based on behavioral or some other form of targeting). Neither campaign will be wasting much hard-earned campaign funding targeting these markets where the outcome is all but certain. Online marketers, without the backing by PAC or national party, need to be even more focused in their marketing efforts. One way to do so is through the purchase of online audience segment from companies like eXelate (disclosure: a client) which enable compiling custom-built audiences specifically designed to achieve each marketer’s campaign targeting goals.
  5. Use Video: If “a picture is worth a thousand words,” then a video is worth much more, particularly in a hotly contested political campaign. According to Time Magazine, the most famous political ad or video is Lyndon Johnson’s “Daisy Girl” ad from the 1964 elections. Created in response to Barry Goldwater’s statement that he would consider using nuclear weapons in Vietnam, the ad generated immediate controversy and an impact on the election, which Johnson won. (See Time’s list of the Top-10 Campaign Video Ads here.)

With two months of campaign marketing ahead of us, marketers should have their eyes and ears open looking for ways to capitalize on the strategies and tactics employed by both campaigns in their marketing plans.


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