The Texting of a President 2008

The title draws from that of a book about political marketing – The Selling of a President 1968. That books author, Joe McGinnis, was upset not just with Richard Nixon (about who you can make your own judgments), but with the notion of candidates as products. Products to be marketed at that.

The candidate as product is no longer novel or controversial. Yet despite the record expenditures and length of this presidential campaign, little interesting marketing has appeared in the 2008 campaign. Enter the pregnant text message.

The Obama Campaign’s tactic of heightening interest in the vice presidential candidate by informing voters of the choice directly by text message is intriguing. It bypassed the established news media and attempts to make a connection directly with voters. The audience who signed up for this message – excluding the small percentage of media types, Republicans, and students of politics – is a potential nucleus of committed fans and product evangelists. They became a bit more involved with the product by being first, though I doubt many were at their phones at 3:00 am when the message came.

Text messaging can be a problematic medium. Spam messages are even more inconvenient on a phone than a computer. They also add injury to insult, because recipients without an unlimited message plan have to pay for the offending messages. The text message section of Obama’s website is a very good example of permission marketing. In a single page, it shows how to sign up for different levels of content from the one time to the occasional to the frequent, an assortment of free ringtones, and a simple one step procedure to unsubscribe.

The Obama text message also emphasizes a difference with John McCain, who notoriously uncomfortable with email. McCainSpace, McCain’s own social networking site is, to my eyes, less usable and engaging. McCain himself seems ill at ease in the welcome video on the home page. In my tests, the site was surprisingly sluggish.

At a dime a message, this campaign may have something for us marketers.