Democratic candidates elect to use e-mail

E-mail has become a widely used tool during this midterm election campaign season as the Democratic Party looks to wrest control of Congress from the Republicans.

The Democrats are using e-mail to get their message out in U.S. Senate and House races, as well as in state gubernatorial contests.

“E-mail is an effective way to communicate to a targeted audience in a more direct way,” said Maritere Arce, a representative for Eliot Spitzer’s gubernatorial campaign in New York. “We use e-mail to contact press to publicize events and to speak to voters directly.”

Though the Democratic nominee is heavily favored against Republican John Faso, Ms. Arce said that marketing is still important to encourage voter turnout on Election Day.

Campaigns use e-mail to send updates to supporters and news releases to the media as well as to raise funds. Most e-mails aim to drive supporters to the campaign Web site, but increasingly campaigns are experimenting with video e-mails. These e-mails deliver campaign commercials and clips from the candidate speaking on the trail in hopes that they will be virally distributed.

In Virginia, where Democrat James Webb is in a close race to unseat Republican Sen. George Allen, video e-mail is vital to the challenger.

“E-mail is an excellent tool to reach voters because it is incredibly cost-effective and allows for rapid-response communications to voters,” said Larry Huynh, principal at Blackrock Associates, Berkeley, CA, who consulted on the campaign. “In addition, e-mail has a viral aspect that does not exist for mail, radio and TV that a campaign can leverage to spread its message beyond the original recipient, reaching their friends, family and colleagues if they forward the message on to their personal e-mail lists.”

Mr. Webb’s campaign e-mails vary in content and targeting but generally are sent two or three times a week to the entire list, highlighting campaign news or the latest TV ad. The e-mails have at least one call to action, either to contribute to the campaign, volunteer or forward the message to a friend. In addition, smaller mailings focus on volunteer activities or geo-targeted messages alerting people to upcoming events in their area.

The opt-in list was built through search engine optimization, search engine pay-per-click advertising, blog ads , online petitions and viral marketing. The e-mail program has helped the campaign raise millions of dollars online and gain tens of thousands of volunteers.

The Webb campaign also includes a television commercial that was forwarded to YouTube via e-mail links. It contains images of Mr. Webb in a Navy uniform from the Vietnam War and an endorsement from President Reagan back when Mr. Webb served as his assistant secretary of defense. The ad was pulled from television after a request from Nancy Reagan.

As consumers will decide what information they want, political campaigns need focused and compelling content, segmentation and timely messages to spur voters to action.

“Web users are not like the target audiences for television or direct mail,” said Brian Reich, senior strategic consultant at Mindshare Interactive Campaigns, Boston. “When online, the user has control over what information they seek out and how they receive it.”

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