This year’s primaries have been some of the most exciting in living memory. There’s been new thinking, bold new political approaches and bold new marketing practices. Barack Obama’s campaign has been extraordinary for a number of reasons, ranging from the radical use of new media tools to the use of social networking to further his reach. Following is an apolitical summary of five innovative ways the campaign has used messaging and media to help create Obama’s grassroots movement:
1. Leveraging the power of inspiration
If you want your audience to love you, wear your T-shirt and forgive your weaknesses, then connect with them on a level beyond the rational benefits/details. The voter’s long journey to the voting booth may twist and turn on those rational policy points, but selecting the candidate inside the booth is often a split-second, emotional decision — in much the same way that consumers make product choices on the shelves.
Obama’s campaign has laid out a clear set of inspiring values — hope, action, change — that weaves consistently through all forms of communication. The rest is commentary. And the campaign has been very good at seamlessly translating these values directly into simple slogans designed to elicit the same responses. Phrases like “Change we can believe in” and “Yes, we can” are examples of phrases that epitomize the Obama brand values and speak positively to the subconscious in a way that would make NLP (Neuro-linguistic Programming) practitioners proud.
2. Bottom-up brand management
The Obama brand is led from the bottom up, not the top down. The campaign has a social-networking site with powerful, instant peer-to-peer communication. With features like “create your own event” and “create your own Obama group,” the campaign has created a self-organizing system. Obama HQ provides the tools for these people to meet, organize, fund-raise and canvass voters, but does not dictate the content or intervene with the peer groups. The chat rooms and events on barackobama.com, such as “Jazz Brunch for Obama Fundraiser,” “Anime Fans for Obama” and “Barack the Kitchen Club,” show the eclectic and organic nature of the organization. I’m sure if I set up a “Twisty Balloon Animals for Obama Fundraiser” this would be uploaded unedited to the site. This creates grassroots ownership and makes campaigners less like foot soldiers and more like the passionate minuteman of the American Revolution. If you want to show up to proverbially fight for Obama with a pitchfork and a homemade uniform, all you have to do is sign up and you’re in.
This campaign’s user-generated brand culture also has a halo effect, spawning independent grassroots Obama campaigns and communities online. For example, the “Yes We Can” viral video created by Will.i.am and cYclops has achieved nearly 6 million hits on YouTube without any seeding or media funding. The video, a personal project created by Will.i.am and first posted on his blog, dipdive, has broken viral ratings. Mark Jurkovac, CEO of cYclops and executive producer of the video, recalls that as soon as it went viral “we got calls from all sorts of groups saying they wanted to do their version of the ‘Yes We Can’ and so we decided to create an online community for this kind of content.” A Web site, hopeactchange.com, was created and has since become a social community for Obama user-generated content, a sort of pro-Obama YouTube. The Web site allows voters to upload their photographs to create a video installation set to the music.
Though Obama is credited as the CEO of Inspiration, no one involved in these projects has spoken to or worked directly with the official Obama campaign. As a self-organizing community, hopeactchange continues to generate new viral content.
3. Continuous activation through ‘SMART’ objectives