Platt Perspective on Business and Technology

The power of groceries in projecting national strength 3 – thinking through media and messages 2

Posted in macroeconomics, Web 2.0 marketing by Timothy Platt on June 18, 2014

This is my third posting to a series on how nation states project an image of their strength, and of their concerns, their aspirations and their values (see Part 1: setting the stage for this discussion and Part 2: thinking through media and messages 1.)

I began discussing medium as message in Part 2 of this series, with at least a loosely defined goal of updating Marshall McLuhan’s message for a rapidly forming and emerging 21st century, with its increasingly online contexts. I focused in Part 2 on 20th century historical examples of how new media have been used and successfully, or misunderstood and misused. And in that, I at least briefly sketched out how adroit use of radio as a then new medium and then television in its turn, were used by savvy politicians as they pursued and advanced their political agendas.

I move this discussion here in this posting into the early years of this 21st century with the advent of online social media and the interactive online experience. And as my working example here, I focus on the 2008 United States presidential election campaign, pitting Barack Obama as the Democratic Party’s candidate against John McCain as the Republican presidential candidate.

I am an independent, politically, but note here that I volunteered help to the Obama election effort in this campaign in the swing state of Pennsylvania where I helped set up and run campaign field offices and ran targeted voter participation drives, among other election-related activities. I mention this both to acknowledge that I was an actively involved partisan in this presidential campaign and that I had something of an insider’s view of how it was run, and from both Democratic and Republican sides as I actively studied the Republican campaign and its strategy and activities while living in Pennsylvania for this too.

I wrote at least briefly in Part 2 about how John F. Kennedy understood television as a Democratic Party presidential election candidate, in ways that his Republican opponent, Richard M. Nixon never did, and how Kennedy’s more successful and compelling use of this new medium played a crucial role in his winning the 1960 presidential election. That was a close election. Obama won over McCain in 2008 by a massively overwhelming margin at least in part because he and his campaign knew and understood computerized database systems and the internet, and social media and the interactive internet in ways that certainly as of this writing, their Republican counterparts are still trying to learn.

• In this, online supported database systems and targeted, adroitly managed and updated online communications were organized and run by the Obama campaign as a closely coordinated unified effort, and one that connected into and supported their more traditional format campaigning too.
• Their Republican opponent ran a much more disorganized and unfocused outreach campaign, largely built around indiscriminately directed automated phone call messaging – robocalls and other traditional approaches.
• I met people and both Democrats and Republicans when in Pennsylvania for this, who told me that they were turning off their phone ringers in the evening because they were getting so many of these automated calls, all strident and all arriving when they were trying to eat dinner or relax with their families after a long day’s work.

Both parties ran more traditional information broadcast model web 1.0 sites. The Democratic Party effectively added interactive elements into all of their outreach, and with a goal of entering into active conversations with the people they sought the votes of. But having said that, the single most important place to start when discussing the Obama campaign’s success has to be with its databases: used to organize and focus where specific targeted messages were directed, and to reach out to people as individuals in doing so.

The Obama campaign started with publically available voter registration rolls, and with anyone who had registered as an independent or as a Democrat. The campaign also identified and actively pursued those who registered to vote without indicating anything as to their political party preferences or affiliations, at least initially presuming them to be likely undecided too or at least as not being fully decided and committed. Registered Republicans and registered members of a few other smaller parties that would be very strongly disinclined to be receptive to any Democratic Party message were noted for their numbers but effectively culled out of the list for active direct outreach. Everyone remaining was actively reached out to, through a succession of carefully planned and scripted outreach campaigns. And responses to these outreaches were tabulated according to standardized scales depending on what issues if any, responders expressed interest in, and on the basis of any feedback gained as to how they would be inclined to vote. This made possible a progressive refinement of the voter and potential voter list, making progressively more fine-tuned and individualized campaign marketing possible.

Outreaches were done in door to door canvasing campaigns where literature was given out. And the people who actively did this work were all coached on how to respond to questions for the major areas of political discussion, and both nationally and for Pennsylvania residents. If a question was asked that the door to door canvasser could not answer, they were told to say that they would research that and get back to the people who asked it with a correct answer. This was noted and every effort was made to do that. And of course all outreach feedback reached here was added into that database system too.

Outreaches were also done by phone but never, ever by automated messaging. Real people called real people. And like the door to door canvassers, they sought out information as to how the people they spoke with were leaning politically. And these campaign workers made a targeted information attempt to at least bring them to more positively consider voting Democratic – and not just for Obama but for the full Democratic Party ticket. Once again, everything they learned from individual potential voters was added into that database too.

In practice most of the people who contributed to the door to door campaigning also helped with the phone banks and vice versa.

• Everyone who did any of this or related work was specifically trained in how to do it
• And about the issues that were important to voters for this election,
• And they were trained as to the details of the Party platform as it addressed them.
• The goal was that everyone working for the campaign understand the issues and that they be able to comfortably, articulately represent the Party and its candidates in explaining them, and in positive terms. This contrasted with the very largely negative messaging offered by the Republican Party in this election and its failure to convincingly offer any real, positive solutions or approaches to the challenges and issues that concerned Pennsylvania voters.

And as noted above, from a database perspective – every voter or potential voter contact was recorded and data so gained was added into and taken into account for dynamically updating the overall voter database so the right messages could be shared with the right people, and from that initial start with a generic voter registration list, up to election day when last minute reminders were sent out along with targeted offers to help people get to their voting places if they needed assistance (e.g. elderly or handicapped voters who would have difficulty traveling to their local voting sites, and then back home again after voting.)

And the Democratic Party’s more traditional foot and phone approach was matched by a very active and constantly updated and retuned interactive online and social media-based campaign too and with insight gained from any one campaign channel fed into all others to further refine and tune them. Everything fit together and lessons learned from any of this overall effort were brought into every other area and aspect of the overall campaign.

McCain and his running mate used a campaign strategy approach of an earlier generation, and never went beyond talking at the people they sought to influence and win over. They did not listen so they did not even know when their outreach efforts were turning people away rather than positively influencing them. They were viewed as being overly negative and strident in that, and at least as tellingly they were viewed as being unable to come up with positive responses to any of the real challenges that voters saw and faced, or even that they themselves raised.

I briefly noted in Part 2 how Nixon miscued on and misused television as a then new and emerging medium when running for office against Kennedy in 1960. Think of the Obama versus McCain election of 2008 as representing a perfect storm counterpart to that for the Republicans, swamping their efforts in all directions and giving Obama a massive victory and a clear mandate. And I will simply note this here in passing but the Republican Party learned nothing from this, and the result was their overwhelming defeat in the 2012 presidential election.

I have, of course, only briefly touched upon a few select details of the 2008 election and even just for the counties of Pennsylvania that I was actively, directly involved with, for it. But for purposes of this posting and series I have probably offered enough for their discussion. I would recommend reading further into this election campaign itself, as it holds multiple lessons and both for understanding recent national elections in the United States, and for understanding the elections soon to come there too.

And at least as tellingly, Obama’s success with massive database systems of individual voter action and opinion, leading to his becoming President, all but certainly influenced his view of and use of massive citizen-data accumulating database systems in general when in office – and as he has led his War on Terror and in a variety of other contexts as well. In that context, see my series: Learnable Lessons from Manning, Snowden and Inevitable Others (at Ubiquitous Computing and Communications – everywhere all the time 2 as postings 225 and loosely following.)

I am going to continue this discussion in a next installment where I will consider the growing implications of and the increasingly day-to-day reality of truly ubiquitous, from anywhere to anywhere communications and interactive online access. Meanwhile, you can find this and related postings at Macroeconomics and Business and also at Web 2.0 Marketing.

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