Cover Story: The Direct Marketing Election

Mitt Romney’s homepage shows how the campaigns put cookies and Web browser information to use. If visitors are logged into Facebook, the social plugin shows how many Facebook users like the page, and which of their friends do, as well. (The main image also appears to be tailored to the state this screenshot was taken from—Pennsylvania.)

This Obama campaign email was sent with the “From” line “Yohannes Abraham, BarackObama.com,” and openly compares the recipient’s name to other names in the registered voter database. Other emails from the campaigns have used different personal information, such as donation history, in the copy.

What all marketers can learn from the deep voter databases and cutting-edge direct marketing tactics that are winning the 2012 election

In the 1964 presidential campaign, President Lyndon Johnson ran the “Daisy” ad against challenger Barry Goldwater. The TV ad ran only once, late in the campaign. In it, a little girl counted the petals of a daisy, and when she reached the number nine, an off-camera male voice counted down to a missile launch. The girl looks to the sky and the screen turns black, only to be replaced by a mushroom cloud. Then Johnson’s voice says, “These are the stakes! To make a world in which all of God’s children can live, or to go into the dark. We must either love each other, or we must die.”

“It was the final chapter in a narrative about Goldwater that he was unreliable and scary and would take us into nuclear war,” says Bert Ralston, a former field representative for the National Republican Congressional Committee and founder and president of VOX Populi Communications LLC, a Jacksonville, Fla.-based government affairs, campaign consulting and crisis management company.

While marketing methods have become vastly more complex, ultimately, every move a campaign makes is based on target marketing, says Ralston. And while the Daisy commercial may not be direct marketing as we consider it today, it was built on direct marketing principles that have been winning elections since the time of Washington: “They targeted people who believed that Goldwater was paranoid,” says Ralston, “and it worked.”

For the campaigns of President Barack Obama and challenger Mitt Romney, it’s no longer just about convincing people to vote and support their candidates. It’s about convincing Americans to respond with their money, time, contact information and opt-in, and ultimately nurturing those relationships into long-term supporters who will have a high lifetime value as donors and be reliable party voters in elections to come.

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