Change in your game
A political campaign is a long, hard slog. For the media team, it's an endurance test of creative strategy. The Barack Obama presidential campaign innovated at every twist and turn, fully realizing the potential of the social media and Internet strategies of Howard Dean's ill-fated 2004 bid, using search in smart and effective ways, and making big waves in traditional media - right down to the final stretch.
Speaking of that final stretch, this presidential run held fast on a few (virtual) hairpin turns at the last moment, making the first ever in-game ad buy by a candidate for the nation's highest office. As gamers in key battleground states raced through Paradise City in Burnout Paradise on Xbox 360, they sped by billboards for Obama informing them that early voting had begun. The campaign, which approached Microsoft's Massive network, ended up running in-game ads from Oct. 6 to Election Day across 18 titles, including Madden NFL '09 and Skate, at a reported cost of just under $45,000.
This was just a small part of the battleground strategy, but it represents a targeted and intelligent approach that worked. Of the 10 states - Ohio, Florida, Iowa, Colorado, Indiana, Montana, North Carolina, New Mexico, Nevada, and Wisconsin - Obama lost only Montana. Every one of them, except Wisconsin, had gone to incumbent George W. Bush in 2004. The effort apparently moved many young voters who might have continued to sit on the couch exercising only their thumbs instead of their right to vote.
And keep in mind, while the Obama camp released Web videos at the rate of one or two a day during the final months of the campaign, it didn't ignore big, bold traditional media buys. Last February, brand Obama made its mark in the lead-up to Super Tuesday, buying TV time during the Super Bowl from local Fox affiliates in the 24 states about to hold caucuses or primaries.
Then, of course, there was the big show of the TV roadblock on Oct.29, when Obama appeared on the major stations (except ABC). The effort took all the air out of a faltering opponent and controlled the news cycle for about 24 hours. It wasn't a frugal move, but at that point, Obama had money to burn. And why? One reason was the campaign's masterful use of the social space as a fundraising tool (there was even an iPhone App). Not only was social media used to mobilize voters and present Obama as a candidate extraordinarily plugged into the electorate, but it also proved a remarkably effective way to fill the coffers.
The search team integrated into the other elements of the campaign, buying key McCain terms to direct traffic to Obama's sites when news stories warranted - as well as focusing on brand-building keywords - maintaining a fluid and savvy search strategy. Research by Didit in late summer showed that 7 percent of voters surveyed were likely to change their votes based on what they learned through Internet searches. These swing-searchers were not insignificant as the candidates rolled into fall, neck-and-neck.
Martin Sorrell, CEO, WPP, recently called Obama's media strategy, "a perfect campaign in the marriage of the new and the old." The team might have benefited from a little well-informed good-fortune, he says, but he calls the roadblock spot-on. "You have to remember that he did a 30-minute infomercial before what turned out to be the deciding World Series game." As for that harmonic convergence of old and new, Sorrell claims the team that came up with the plan to use the Internet for mass, small-donation fundraising pitched Hilary first, but was rejected. "They went across the road to the Obama campaign, which was more hungry and less complacent about doing things," Sorrell said.
The last time new media influenced the outcome of a presidential election as significantly as it did this year was 1960 - and the medium was color television.