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The Obama Campaign: Politics 4.0

.... Two New Pioneers

By Dr. Joan Van Tassel

The Revolution Was Televised And Microtargeted, Emailed, Blogged, Vlogged, Chatted, Texted, Tweeted, iPhoned, & Videogamed and the architects were Rahaf Farhoush and Chris Hughes.

Rahaf Farhoush is the new 24. So is Chris Hughes. And when these two new media pioneers got together, they were a key factor in bringing about change you’d better believe in: They did it.

“I was doing research on the Net Generation for Don Tapscott’s upcoming book and tracked down Chris Hughes, in charge of internal online organizing for the Obama campaign,” recounted Farhoush. “We hit it off -- we were both 24 and we laughed about being born in same year. I ended up working on the campaign full time from September of 2008 through the election.”

By now, everyone has read of the Obama campaign’s recipe for victory -- juggernaut fundraising, consistent and pervasive messaging, and innovative use of new media platforms and analytical technologies. Even in the middle of the campaign it was clear that, like the lyrics of a 1967 hit song by Buffalo Springfield, ‘something’s happening here,’ a new style of political campaign was emerging. Within days after the election, dozens of articles appeared, describing and lauding the many vendors and high-profile wizards who played a role in it.

It’s all true – something did happen in the 2008 election cycle and it is nothing short of a revolution in political campaigning. The presidential effort of Barack Obama raises electioneering to a higher level that I will refer to as Politics 4.0.

The elements of Politics 4.0
:
- Consistent high-level messaging
- Integrated communications strategy
- Predictive analytics
- Technological support

Communication & Technology in Political Campaigns
Political Campaign 1.0
Oral Communication
- Stump Speeches, word-of-mouth
Political Campaign 2.0 - Mass Media

Political Campaign 2.0.1

Mass Media (Print)
- Widely circulated newspapers
 

- 1833: The New York Sun, the
nations's first "penny press."
Political Campaign 2.0.2
Mass Media (Radio)
- Use of radio to reach public
- 1920: KDKA - first broadcast of Pres. 
election returns;
- 1924: Coolidge/Davis Pres. race, "the
Radio Election."
Political Campaign 2.0.3
Mass Media (Television)
- Use of television to reach public

- 1952: Eisenhower presidential campaign airs first political TV commercial

 
Political Campaign 3.0
Mass Media + Direct Media + Word of Mouth
- 2004: Bush presidential campaign uses microtargeting to reach voters via  phone
banks, email, newsletters, and church-based word of mouth.
Political Campaign 4.0
Integrated communications
  • Mass Media (Print/Radio/TV)
  • Social Media (Social networks, blogs, Twitter, videogames)
  • Personal Media (mobile phones, pagers, PDAs)
  • Direct Media (direct mail, email)
- 2008: Obama presidential campaign
uses integrated communications
strategy, predictive analytics, and
state-of-the-art technology to support them.

Can you come up with the Jeopardy question that encapsulates integrated communications and predictive analytics in the next 30 seconds? If not, you had better read on because without understanding what they mean, even if you are the most skilled practitioner of Politics 3.0, your next campaign could suffer the same fate as McCain in 2008. Here’s how Farhoush explains it:

The Obama campaign wasn’t a win for technology; it was a win for strategy. It was a win for the power of a strategic vision, executed in an integrated media campaign. It was strong messaging and strong branding, executed across different channels. People went on Facebook, MySpace, and other social networks and got the same brand as people who received it on TV and radio -- all the same brand. It was so powerful because it was consistent across all the media coRahaf Harfoush - Photo source: http://www rahafharfoush.com, used with permission.nsumer touch points,” she explained.
 
(Harfoush is writing a book, Yes We Did: An inside look at how social media and design built the Obama brand,” that will be published in May, 2009. Photo source: http://www rahafharfoush.com, used with permission.)

The formal underpinning of contemporary persuasive campaigns is a discipline called Integrated Marketing Communications (IMC). IMC originated at Northwestern University in 1991 under the joint imprimatur of Don Schultz, Dick Christian, Ted Spiegel, and Stan Tannenbaum, often called the founding fathers of IMC. They re-designed a master’s degree in marketing to include a dynamic mix of marketing, public relations, and advertising.

A definition of IMC, coined by marketing guru Esther Thorson, is “the strategic coordination of multiple communication voices with its aim to optimize the impact of a persuasive communication on both consumer and non-consumer audiences by coordinating such elements of the marketing mix as advertising, public relations, promotions, direct marketing, and package
design.” That mouthful boils down to this: A single messaging purpose prepared in multiple voices to reach multiple target audience groups, across multiple communication channels.

IMC is the framework through which communication efforts can plan, implement, evaluate, and track complex communication programs across multiple voter segments, content types, and media platforms. The growth of Internet use and the emergence of additional communication channels has propelled IMC to the forefront of marketing efforts for several reasons.
   
Defining audience / consumer / voter segments is now possible through a branch of data mining called predictive analytics. Composing and tracking the specialized messaging to reach each segment has become a complex activity in its own right. Yet the easy access of each group to messages that may be directed to other segments poses a threat and it forces campaigns to make sure their messages are, at a minimum, always consistent. In other words, messages do not have to be the same or even similar – but they must have some level of consistency. Viral video is an even greater push towards consistency, as friendly George Allen found out the hard way when his “moment of meanness” showed up as a YouTube video.

More than ever before, using media effectively requires a more detailed understanding of how people consume media. It is not enough to know the alphabet soup of TVHHs (television households), GRPs (gross rating points), and TRPs (television rating points) of traditional buying. In that old world, 97% of people watched TV and demographics ruled. Today, voter and consumer segments are increasingly defined as much by their personal preferences for receiving messages as by demographic, psychographic, or lifestyle variables. This means that people who use television or read a newspaper daily may not use the Internet or receive SMS text at all; those who use Twitter may not watch television; and those who play videogames may not listen to the radio or read non-game blogs and magazines. And any of them can be of any age: Did you know that 45% of people between 70 and 75 now use the Internet?

Today’s media landscape is an ever-changing and much larger landscape than in the past. In other words, it’s not just different – it’s bigger. In the last decade, two ubiquitous new media types have emerged, mobile phones and social media, such as blogs and social networks. Moreover, old media types do not die…. they are just re-purposed.

Indeed, using the media to promote political candidates and causes is nothing new. From the early 1700s, available popular print media and widespread literacy became an increasingly powerful social and political force through the end of the 19th century. Electronic mass media in the form of radio came to the fore in 1924 and was the strongest media influence until television reigned from the early 1950s to the present. In the late 1980s and early 1990s, direct mail assumed a special importance in politics, particularly in turning out the base. By the mid-1990s, email emerged as a relatively inexpensive alternative direct medium to reach individually addressable voters. And at the end of the 1990s to the present, social media, (blogs, social networks, wikis, video sites) and personal media (mobile phones, PDAs, pagers) are new, effective influence mechanisms for communicating with voters.

Did the Obama campaign consciously employ IMC?  Nobody knows; if they do, they’re not talking. Certainly no one has cited explicitly the books or the professors. But remember that these IMC founding fathers created the first program at Northwestern – in Chicago. Moreover, Julius Genachowski, who was a key advisor to President-elect Obama during the campaign and is now a member of the transition team, served as the Chief Business Officer for InterActive Corp. (IAC). IAC specializes in developing advertising campaigns that integrate a wide array of “new media” media and channels. So, while Genachowski may not have written the playbook himself, he certainly knows the people who did, as well as the brains behind many of the most ambitious implementations of IMC.

If you were a 24-year old political operative in the Obama campaign like Rahaf Farboush, you’d know all about IMC. “The innovation started from strategy, planning, and foresight. That is what made it successful. It was far more strategic than tactical. The money helped, but a lot of the push from the campaign through social media came in the beginning when Obama was the underdog, before we had the big machine. It’s not about budget – it’s about an intense and focused effort,” she explained.
 
Joan Van Tassel, Ph.D., Communication Theory & Research.
An educator, author, and multimedia journalist. Currently,
an Associate Professor of Communication and Chair of the
Communication Arts Department at National University.
Joan teaches courses in media story-telling, strategic
communication, communication technologies, content
production, and journalism.
Joan can be reached at Click here to contact this Author.
 

Winning Campaigns Online
   2009 AAPC Conference Issue
        The Obama Campaign: Politics 4.0
        .... Two New Pioneers
By Dr. Joan Van Tassel
The Revolution Was Televised And Microtargeted, Emailed, Blogged, Vlogged, Chatted, Texted, Tweeted, iPhoned, & Videogamed and the architects were Rahaf Farhoush and Chris Hughes ...
        Recession Fundraising
        .... Running a Green Campaign
By Holly Robichaud
Do you want to run a green campaign – a campaign with money?  During these tough financial times people are cutting back on everything including their political donations, so it is going ...
        New Media Mindset
        .... Harnessing the Power in Down-Ballot Campaigns
By Dr. Joan Van Tassel
“I don’t have a million dollars in my campaign war chest!” you say. Fortunately, you won’t need it to implement Politics 4.0. New media efforts have associated costs, but they are not ...
        When Women Run
        .... Women Win
By  Dotty E. LeMieux
Is there a difference between the way a woman runs and the way a man runs for public office?  The answer is yes, no, and / or, it depends ...
        Itís The Data
        .... That Puts You in the Driver’s Seat
By Dr. Joan Van Tassel
Think of it as the t-shirt everyone in the Obama campaign could have worn after the election: In the new politics, if you don’t count…you don’t count. Research is fundamental to ...