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Email Marketing and the 2004 Election

G. Simms Jenkins
Email Marketing and the 2004 Election G. Simms Jenkins

As we approach the endgame of this heated presidential election, both candidates are using email marketing to improve their standings in the polls. To most companies, Email Marketing is a major communications platform, and in this election, the business-like campaigns have used email marketing in a capacity most CMOs would admire. Indeed, both campaigns went as far as to tell me that email marketing was critical to their success and a major component of their overall efforts.

Email marketing has been an integral force for both campaigns from the very beginning. The Kerry campaign chose email as the medium to announce John Edwards as Kerry’s running mate. Both parties have also used it as a major fund raising tool -- Kerry raised over $80 million during the primary over the Internet, with email a major part of that effort. The campaigns have also used email as a way to confront critics -- Bush’s Campaign Manager leveraged an email to its database to challenge Kerry’s Campaign Manager after an accusation from the Kerry campaign. Though the two campaigns have been compared and contrasted on many different levels, I will take a different approach and analyze their use of email marketing.

Though email marketing won’t win or lose the election for either side, a review of what's working for each candidate might be helpful for marketers in the context of email marketing best practices.


The Bush campaign collects more data upon its mandatory registration and uses first name personalization on all emails. The Kerry campaign only personalized if the registrant opted to become a campaign volunteer -- a process which required submission of the registrant’s first name (regular email subscribers were not offered an opportunity to provide their first names, only their email address and zip code). Kerry should consider collecting a bit more information upon sign up -- even optional fields would help fill out their database and enable more customized messaging.

Advantage Bush

Branding/Value Proposition

While both candidates’ templates have a standard red, white and blue logo with the stars and stripes as their masthead above the fold, the rest of the email message often looked like a form letter. One Kerry email was an exception with a call-to-action button for contributions as a deadline neared. Interestingly, a similar looking Bush email came out the next day. However, largely the pieces looked like electronic copies of form letters lacking clear and articulate purposes or desired actions behind each email.

Note: I received HTML emails so I have not commented on text versions.

Advantage Kerry

Strong Subject Line

One Kerry subject line was “Polling Update.” Not an inspiring way to get recipients to open a message with six days left in a tight campaign. Bush’s folks faired better with more attention grabbing subject lines: “John Kerry's Attacks: Ripped from the Headlines!” and “Let the Voters Choose, Not the Lawyers.” I was surprised to see one email from John Edwards with the subject line “Next Wednesday Morning” that I almost deleted as spam before I saw the sender’s name.

Advantage Bush

Clear From Line

One of my biggest beefs was the ever-changing musical chairs of who will send today’s email. One can debate the merits of saying the email is from Bush or Kerry when they probably didn’t press the send button or write the copy, but there was little consistency in whom the messages were ostensibly from. Maybe each party thought that this was a way to increase their frequency, but how many know who Ken Mehlman (campaign manager for Bush/Cheney) is or have Mark Mellman (Kerry/Edwards pollster) in their personal whitelists? A late email from John Edwards certainly grabs your attention, however.

Slight Advantage Kerry (due to Edwards Email)


In the final week of the campaign, Bush’s campaign sent a targeted email to me (as a Georgia resident) where it focused on the Georgia operations of the campaign and steps I could take to influence undecided voters in my home state. Kerry’s campaign did not use segmenting in Georgia, missing an opportunity.

However, Kerry’s campaign used email as the primary driving force to get a large turnout for a Clinton-Kerry appearance in Philadelphia. Bush’s campaign also recently delivered via email maps and driving directions to supporters’ local polling places, which is a great use of geo-targeting with a strong and clear call to action.



On http://www.georgewbush.com/, the registration form clearly articulates the expected frequency of emails and the type of content you can expect to see.

However, the Kerry registration process leaves you with no idea whether emails will arrive monthly, daily or what specific content will be featured.

The Bush campaign was more aggressive in terms of frequency during the final week of the campaign. While one may see this as overkill, I would argue that during the final week, one email per day is appropriate and could even be essential. If you are ever going to increase the frequency and urgency of messaging, email is the right tool and the final week before the election is the right time.

Advantage Bush

Viral Marketing

Kerry’s email pitches did not offer any “forward to a friend” option. In contrast, the Bush team made it very clear and easy at the bottom of all its emails to forward to friends and family using an embedded viral tool. When friends and family can often influence one’s political decision, this is a critical time to be using viral marketing.

Advantage Bush

CAN-SPAM Compliance

Bush’s emails do not contain a physical address, arguably the easiest part of CAN-SPAM compliance. Despite politicians’ non-commercial emails being exempt from the law, Bush has an opportunity to help implement something that he signed into law this year. Exempt or not, it is a simple best practice to follow by anyone using email marketing.

Advantage Kerry

Use of Footer

Bush campaign emails include in their footer a way for people to opt in to future messages in the event the email was forwarded. Another small yet nice touch was a disclaimer that the email from the Bush campaign was not sent at taxpayers’ expense. Kerry has some legalese on contributions and their tax consequences, which would probably be better suited for the contributions page, not within the body of the email.

Advantage Bush

Email Marketing Criteria

Winning Candidate
Personalization Bush
Branding/Value Proposition Kerry
Strong Subject Line Bush
Clear From Line Kerry
Targeting/Segmentation Tie
Frequency Bush
Viral Marketing Bush
CAN-SPAM Compliant Kerry
Use of Footer Bush

Both campaigns have certainly realized the power and efficiency of email marketing. Michael Turk, e-Campaign Director for Bush-Cheney ’04, said, “Email is a critical component of what we do. We have more than 7 million subscribers to our email list and reach out to them with information, calls to action, and to actively engage in volunteer activities. The ability to deliver that kind of targeted information to voters does not exist in other media.”

Though both candidates could stand to improve their email marketing execution, it is clear that they view it as a vital element of their campaign strategy. I feel comfortable saying that Bush’s camp has a very slight advantage over Kerry in terms of email strategy and execution. Though I can’t predict the winner of this year’s election, I can say that we should expect to see increased usage of email marketing in both national and local politics as candidates continue to recognize the value of this timely, highly personalized, low-cost medium.

G. Simms Jenkins is Founder and Principal of BrightWave Marketing, an Atlanta based Email Marketing and Customer Relationship Services firm. He has extensive relationship marketing experience on both the client and agency side. Jenkins has led BrightWave Marketing in establishing a large client list, including marquee clients like GMAC Insurance, CoreNet Global and The Atlanta Journal - Constitution. BrightWave Marketing has become a leader in the Email Marketing outsourcing space by using their expertise in strategy, design, list management, segmenting, delivery and analysis. Jenkins has been recognized by many media outlets as an Email Marketing and CAN-SPAM expert. Prior to BrightWave Marketing, Jenkins was Director of Business Development at two high-tech start-ups and headed the CRM group at Cox Interactive Media, a unit of media giant Cox Enterprises.

Collaborative creation

Vyclone and Stringwire are taking on a serious challenge: enabling seamless, real-time collaborative content creation. Both companies use cloud-based online interfaces to sync video coming from a variety of devices to a seamless multi-camera narrative; they combine multiple perspectives to tell the whole story of a shared moment. They're slick. They're simple. They're making sophisticated synchronization technology invisible in the background while intuitive interfaces empower us to merge content into a single awesome piece of reporting in real-time.

Stringwire is more journalistic, with a network of verified, quality content creators baked into the core product. These content creators can be mobilized to cover breaking events at any moment, anywhere across the globe. Imagine what this means for law enforcement. If widely adopted, civilian eyewitness reporting takes on an entirely new meaning. What if every single person with a smartphone virtually became a security cam to capture every perspective of any event, criminal or otherwise, that happens around the world, all in real-time? Omnipresent transparency. Forget PRISM. We're becoming our own Big Brother. But in this case, transparency feels like a good thing.

Vyclone, backed by concert powerhouse Live Nation, focuses more on unique entertainment experiences by enabling attendees to work together and let the world in on the shared experience of live events -- a concert, a sporting event, a wedding, anything. To date, those who watched live events online have had two options: They could watch the "official" produced livestream or piece together clips and commentary broadcast over the social airwaves. But the professional stream can't capture all the nuances of being in the crowd, and fan clips are disparate fragments of the experience.

Now Vyclone powers a whole new level of access, with a cohesive stream from the vantage point of anyone there in person. A recent partnership with Jason Mraz and Madison Square Garden showcased the power of the tool, capturing the entire concert experience from the inside out. Expect more enhanced entertainment experiences like these to come.

New content media

Zeega is a new storytelling platform that empowers people to use various forms of media to easily weave together photos, videos, images, gifs, and music to create content. Think PowerPoint meets iMovie meets Pro Tools meets Tumblr meets Gifbin, built on a cloud-based web interface that enables users to create an entirely new medium of content. It's such a literal embodiment of mash-up culture that it transcends parody and becomes something truly awe-inspiring. The end product hardly resembles any medium of content that we have seen to date, but somehow it still tells a cohesive story and churns out a captivating viewing experience.

And these stories are easy to make. Zeega recently showed off what the tool is capable of at a San Francisco Museum of Modern Art event. The event gathered content creators with real chops to put together a series of vignettes around themes of their choice. But as a novice, it's not that much more difficult to take cultural references, personal and collective, and weave them into a narrative that both tells a compelling story and is captivating in its novelty.

Free market content and the influencer economy

YouTube is far from a startup, but it has paved the way for a new category of content creators who are becoming a trend with momentum that cannot be ignored. The platform empowers content creators to develop their own built-in audiences without any intermediary. But more so than the direct-to-consumer delivery model, the paradigm shift to note here is the diversity of the type of content and "star" that is gaining traction. Whereas the creative industries have historically monetized actors and musicians, the YouTube star has blown the doors off what constitutes celebrity. Today some of the biggest names are really just popular personalities, quite literally cashing in on social currency.

One new social content startup to watch is Pheed, which has recognized this trend and is creating a platform for this new influencer economy. Creators have embraced a model of giving away content that can be ripped, shared, blogged, and tweeted to develop audience. Then, once the fan base is amassed, they then monetize that audience. Currently they build their fan bases on Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, and so on, and then monetize off these platforms elsewhere, via touring, record sales, or in -- the case of the new creator -- with brand subsidy.

Pheed gives creators of any kind -- from photographers to comedians, musicians, or even just popular personalities -- the ability to build audiences and monetize them right within that very platform. The better the content they give away, the more it is shared and the more their followerships grow. And once audience and demand has been built, creators can choose to put up a pay wall for specific releases (an album, a single, a piece of photography, or even just a well-timed vlog post) and choose the price point. At the end of the day, free market principles apply: If the content is compelling enough and priced properly, people will pay for it. A new-age content marketplace, Pheed gives a new era of creators a platform to build audiences and their careers.

And for brands to get involved in this ecosystem, startups like Outrigger are forming products like OpenSlate that help identify up-and-comers in the creators space. Such solutions enable brands to tap into their potential and find undervalued talent before they're "discovered." Along these lines, in partnership with Outrigger, Digitas is now co-developing the Emerging Talent Tracker to help brands identify, engage, and partner with emerging talent on YouTube before they are discovered by the masses.

Keeping pace: Startups to manage startups

If anything is a testament to the speed of innovation, it's the ever-more common practice of startups that are built on the backs of other startups. Nativ.ly is a startup that was built to discover and help monetize startups. How meta is that?

CallSnap is a brand new startup that was built off the popularity of, and the trends behind, the still nascent Snapchat. While Snapchat lets you send photos and videos to your contacts to open a line of communication, CallSnap essentially lets you do the opposite. It lets you snap a photo and send it after you decline the person's call -- a way of briefly showing the person why you weren't available. The two apps are built for different purposes, but they both rely on the increasing importance of photos via mobile to get your point across.

Waze, brought to the limelight of potential for brands by Nativ.ly earlier this year, was just bought last week by Google for more than a billion dollars, just months after its first monetization efforts. Waze in large part owes its recent acquisition -- at least its valuation, to a certain degree -- to Nativ.ly founders Jared Katzman and Mark Chu-Cheong, for proving its value to brands with a first-of-its-kind program that demonstrated real potential for brand dollars.

The convergence of social, content, and mobile

Are these content startups? Social? Mobile? Yes. From Vyclone to Pheed to CallSnap, all of these startups are blurring the lines between disciplines. They feature collaborative social elements that help create, distribute, and consume new types of content in new ways, across desktop, tablet, and mobile.

As consumers adopt social and mobile as part of their everyday lives, the startups to watch are the ones that don't specialize in any given silo. Instead, they focus on enriching people's lives in new ways, no matter the channel. The ones that will be successful are the ones that are nimble, move fast, and keep pace with the ever-increasing speed of innovation, consumer adoption of new behaviors, and the stream of content that we're consuming more of -- and more rapidly.

Alex Jacobs is vice president and director of social media at Digitas.

On Twitter? Follow Jacobs at @AlexJakes. Follow iMedia Connection at @iMediaTweet.

"Landscape, sunny dawn in a field" image via Shutterstock.


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