Cover Story: The Direct Marketing Election
However, both campaigns are creatively changing the content of the emails that could translate into more donations or votes, he says. For example, both are simplifying the messages so readers can more easily view them on smartphones and tablets. The campaigns are making the sentences short, formatting in single columns and quickly getting to the call to action—asking recipients to donate, volunteer or rally other people to vote for the candidate.
The candidates are also using emails for more "retailing" purposes—asking supporters to buy T-shirts or bumper stickers touting their candidacies, McDonald says.
"I think it shows some real creativity around how to commit their supporters who are really passionate to buy things to promote the campaign," he says. "It's also a more creative way to raise money, replacing messages like, 'We just need another $10 by midnight!"
McDonald predicts that microtargeting will get even more sophisticated in the 2016 presidential election. For example, candidates might send angry barbs about their opponents—i.e., "red meat"—to recipients they know are in their "bases" to get more donations, but more dispassionate explanations of their positions to independents to convince them to vote. But he says it will take further database mining to determine which voters might be most receptive to those types of emails.
Text messages from campaigns are the newest frontier in political marketing, according to Jeff Hasen, chief marketing officer at Hipcricket, a mobile marketing and advertising company in New York City. Hasen contends that Obama has an advantage over Romney in that Obama has been building his mobile database since before the 2008 election and throughout his presidency, and people haven't opted out of receiving messages via text.
However, Hasen, who has been receiving text messages from Obama since 2008, has "a problem" with the President's recent messaging.