Media Perspective: How Obama election campaign was truly a post-digital lesson

By Russell Davies, russell@russelldavies.com, campaignlive.co.uk, Friday, 14 November 2008 12:00AM

A little while ago, a bunch of prognosticators, me included, excitedly forecast that the next US election would be the first truly "digital" campaign.

The way the Howard Dean campaign used the web for fundraising and the outbreaks of candidate embarrassment on YouTube pointed at a big future for political campaigning on the web.

But Barack Obama has proved us all wrong. His campaign was so digitally savvy, so smart in exploiting new marketing tools, that it became post-digital in a way that few brands have yet managed. His campaign was so fluent in digital-thinking that the newness or specialness of the tools lost their meaning and became integrated in the total marketing effort.

They treated digital like a teenager treats MySpace: just something that's there to be used. So let's try to learn from four smart things they did. First, the iPhone app. The Obama campaign got this into the Apple App Store while most brands were asking what an app was. It took all your contacts on your phone and organised them by battleground state - you could call them and suggest they vote for Obama - and you'd be calling people who mattered to the campaign.

Cleverly, they also recorded the number of calls you were making, so you could compare yourself to the average. Give people a score and they'll always try to maximise it. The best marketing is sometimes about giving people the tools to do what you want, not telling them to do it.

The second great thing they did was act with great nimbleness in exploiting opportunities that came their way. The defining images of the campaign were probably the posters of Obama done by Shepard Fairey, best known for his Andre The Giant street postings. These were initially entirely unofficial, cultish and underground. But they were co-opted by the campaign and added to the reservoir of imagery to be used, opportunistically enhancing the campaign's "cool".

The third brilliant thing was their use of old-fashioned telly: even a tool as devalued as the infomercial. They recognised that television still can't be beaten as a way of creating spectacle and delivered a 30-minute roadblock a week before the election. Not only to deliver a message but to convey weight, scale and momentum. All things telly does well.

And the fourth bit of genius was their attention to detail. They knew that design mattered. That the website mattered. That having good versions of the campaign logo for every allied group mattered. And, crucially, they were prepared to win, so they were able to roll out www.change.gov right after the election. We've just had the world's first post-digital election campaign, I wonder what we'll have next in Britain.

This article was first published on campaignlive.co.uk

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