Interview: New media key to Obama campaign

Embracing innovative new tools on the Internet and mobile phones to engage citizens has been central to the communications success of Barack Obama’s US presidential campaign, says Brian Fetherstonhaugh, chairman and CEO of OgilvyOne Worldwide, in an interview with EURACTIV.

“Barack Obama […] has a message strategy that is both resonant and different from a traditional one,” says the marketing boss. He hailed the senator’s “very good” choice of new media like social networking and mobile marketing to communicate his ideas. 

The US electorate head to the polls to choose a new president today (4 November). Both Democratic candidate Barack Obama and his Republican rival John McCain have invested vast sums in communicating with voters during months of hectic campaigning. 

Fetherstonhaugh outlines three “striking” features of the Obama campaign compared to that of McCain: delivery of a resonant message in an invitational style, effective use of the Internet to engage advocates and donors and innovative use of traditional media such as television. 

While Obama “used the Internet right from the beginning to create the engagement,” “McCain has not found a big resonant and inviting message” and was “a late, late adopter” of the Web, the Ogilvy executive observes. 

“From the messaging standpoint, Obama’s campaign has been inherently invitational,” employing messages such as “Join me” and “You can make the difference,” Fetherstonhaugh explains, which gave him a crucial advantage over the more prescriptive, “very traditional” approach of rival Hilary Clinton during the primary season. 

Politics aside, the Ogilvy boss says the lessons learned from the online communities that the Obama campaign developed through their website My.BarackObama.com have implications for the marketing and communications industries too. 

Consumers are becoming “much more independent, seizing control of the information and communications agenda” themselves, observes Fetherstonhaugh. He points to the “permission-based and respectful” approach of the Obama campaign to mobile marketing and use of sites like Facebook as proof of this trend. 

“Early engagement and gaining support and permission of enthusiasts at the beginning” allows supporters to “pass on their enthusiasm to others” via My.BarackObama.com, he says, while the “self-governing aspect” of tools like blogs creates content that is constantly refreshed by users at no cost for the campaign team. 

“Once people knew they were in control and […] could retain their independence, they willingly signed up” for campaign updates, he said, highlighting similarities with the way European football fans subscribe to text updates from their favourite team. 

Nevertheless, Fetherstonhaugh concedes that traditional media has continued to play a massive role in the presidential campaign. “On a level of consumer understanding and sophistication, the success of Obama’s campaign is not solely based on the Internet,” rather a combination of “the message, the Internet and intelligent use of traditional media”.

To read the interview in full, please click here

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