Obama: Best Marketing Campaign of the 21st century

Digital Media in the Obama Campaign

Every aspect of society is being forced to transform to make way for the new era of communication technologies. Politics is no exception. The exercise of power and the configuration of advantage and dominance in democracy are linked to technological change. People are using social media platforms in new and evolving ways. For example, in more recent years, protests are being planned and executed on Facebook. Political elites are joining social media and hiring social media managers to manage their online presence. People are starting their careers on digital platforms, such as Vine and YouTube. At the same time, they are ending their careers with simple mistakes and mess ups on Twitter.

In recent political campaigns, the use of social media redefined what it means to campaign for president. No longer is it about how well you speak, but rather, how well you can craft a tweet, or gain insights from your pool of data. It appears to resemble more of a marketing campaign then a political race. They have turned it into a battle of big data, and who can get their hands on enough of it to understand the young people. Like all companies, the political parties are trying to understand and connect with the millennials, and they are doing so through the piles of data that they’re high end software is capturing.

Obama brought in a whole new set of tools to his campaign. He introduced a new wave of technical innovation employing large scale data analytics and behavioral modeling, aimed at personal political communication. His campaign exploited data analytics to engage in an unprecedented level of personalized messaging. He used these messages to target certain states in order to win a closer election with highly hones state by state tactics.

With digital tools saturating the political market, it’s all about which contestant can use them better. Arianna Huffington, a political commentator said Obama would not have even been elected if it weren’t for the internet. Just like John F Kennedy was the television candidate, Obama was the internet candidate. No longer are the days where you have to travel to each town to attract attention and share your platform; instead, candidates take to the digital world to spread the word. Digital media was an integral part of Obama’s successful campaign. But this begs the question, did Obama win because he was a good candidate with a good platform, or did he just have the strongest digital strategy. Is the political race, simply one of popularity, where a candidate’s strength lies in the amount of followers he has, or the number of likes on Instagram? Social media isn’t just a tool of the campaign, it’s where it is being built and where everything else is based off of.

There are a lot of positives to this new kind of campaign. For example, it afforded citizens a new way of interacting with the candidates and allowed a window of expressions. They had direct access to the presidential candidates and could show support in a more obvious and direct way. They could watch the election happening in a closer context than ever before. Romney used to live tweet during debates, and so supporters could watch the progression happening in real time.

Forbes says that Obama won based on the support of two main constituents — Hispanics, and millennials. The reason Obama won millennials is because he spoke in their language, on their communication platforms. During his campaign, he employed many digital tools in order to be successful with traditional elements of campaigning. Obama was also highly experimental, placing ads on billboards inside video games and embracing a wide variety of communication opportunities and integrating them with the fundamental tasks of the campaign. Obama also changed up the campaign norms by focusing on smaller, online donations. Instead of going after the big donations, he looked to individuals, asking them to donate a small amount to his campaign fund. He also focused on online donations, as it offered immediacy. The campaign could exploit supporter’s reactions to news and political events in real time, catching them when their emotions ran high and they were most likely to donate. Once again, this sounds like a marketing campaign, not a political one. Even further, I question the ethicality behind that. Is it ethical to exploit the emotions of his supporters just to grow his campaign fund. Another area where I question ethics is how the campaign exploited facebook information while organizing volunteers. Their tools captured facebook information and then gave that information to volunteers, recommending that they talk to that person about Obama.

McCain on the other hand, was still thinking about digital media in terms of not much more sophisticated than simply a list of contacts. He was the last presidential candidate in the U.S to run for office that treated digital media as an option and a separate entity from the larger context for political communication. From Obama on, if an individual wants to win the office, they must utilize digital tools and be actively engaged in digital media. Even further, they must be prepared for an all out, digital war with their component. Long gone are the days of the air war, now it is a fight for likes and views.

Obama won for a multitude of reasons. One was his team of consultants, digital strategists, and media experts, all well — equipped to deal with the digital space. They had been preparing for years for the 2008 contest, as it would showcase a lot of firsts for the political arena. However, he also won because the group he was trying to capture was responding to his digitized campaign. Democrats and liberals had a bigger share of internet users than republicans. This generational bias will continue to play a part in the next few elections.

In an ironic twist, this new sort of political communication causes politics to see people as individuals, with their own special concerns and worries. However, all the information they have is contrived from big data. By studying surveys and data, they can create a more personalized campaign experience for different states, towns, and groups of individuals. Yet, to get this data, privacy concerns are raised. Is it worth it to have a more personalized campaign experience, if it means opening up the window into our personal life? Where should the line be drawn between what is okay to use, and what is not okay to use. Obama had to get on a very personal basis with a lot of his supporters to truly make connections with them. For the longest time, society has wanted political heads to see us as individuals, instead of being classified into groups. However, that day has finally come and we see what sacrifices we must make. In other countries, this level of data mining wouldn’t work because of privacy laws and issues. In the U.S, we allow marketers to find our information in order to offer us better and more personal products. It’s now the same with politics. They are working harder to market themselves and getting more data — savvy, and perhaps more intrusive, to do so.

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