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Presidential candidates fight to the finish with strategic campaigns

Team Obama
: 31,000+ “likes”
Klout score: 94

Team Romney
: 10,000+ “likes”
Klout score: 85

While many in our country may believe what we all experienced in the past two years is a contest between two men with presidential aspirations battling each other for the hearts and minds of the American voter—nothing could be further from the truth.

Those of us in the marketing and communications industry realize that what we are witnessing is an epic brand and marketing battle being waged by two warring forces for market supremacy. None should be deluded that President Obama and Governor Mitt Romney are composing all of those tweets, Facebook posts, robocalls, and personal emails after they’ve finished their daily stump speeches and campaign rallies. Winning the White House is perhaps the most valuable marketing prize in our industry.

In observing the strategic plans and monitoring the execution of the marketing strategies of the agencies managing the campaigns for each side, it is clear that there are significant differences in philosophy and tactics within their marketing strategies. Whether these differences will ultimately be for formula for victory will be debated long after all of the votes are counted and the winners are selected.

The Obama team literally wrote a book, Communicator-in-Chief, which provides great detail on how his side leveraged emerging media to raise nearly a half a billion dollars in campaign financing during the last election, and engage with young voters in new ways to encourage them to vote for his candidacy. Republicans have also written their own book regarding marketing…leveraging the knowledge base of Karl Rove and others in their dependency on direct mail and random digit dialing to get out the vote. Entering the 2012 campaign, the marketing battle was pitted between old school and new school tactics.

While the results of the election are still questionable, both sides continue to battle to the final hour in an attempt to convert the undecided and motivate the loyal base. The strategies and level of spending continue to intensify with each passing hour. Both presidential and vice presidential debates provide both sides with new messaging opportunities to adjust their campaigns and efforts in real time. Network news provides a steady diet of swing state polls and insight on where momentum is being generated.

Market data documents that this election has been the most expensive race—and the closest— in our country’s history. But will the billions of dollars being spent on marketing strategies and tactics by both candidates translate into victory?  Let’s compare and contrast the performance of each camp in several of the key battleground tactics for clues.

Social media

Team Obama continues to ride the horse that provided victory in the last race. Early in the campaign Obama had a commanding lead in both Facebook “likes” and Twitter followers. The Romney camp was very late to their social media strategy and had several significant pitfalls.

The latest tally has Obama with a commanding lead on Facebook—31,128,148 “likes” to Mitt Romney’s 10,326,088. The Chicago bunker team has been incredibly nimble within the Twitter environment, taking advantage of any perceived Romney weakness with a relentless Twitter tirade. Obama followers are currently at more than 21 million, with Mitt Romney trailing badly at nearly 1.6 million.

Paul Ryan being added to the mix has had a magical effect on the overall ticket. Ryan has buried VP Joe Biden on Facebook in recent weeks, more than 5 million Facebook “likes” and close to 500,000 Twitter followers. VP Joe Biden lags badly in both venues (about 478,000 Facebook “likes” and almost 275,000 followers on Twitter.)

But about two months ago, Team Romney turned on the faucet with a dizzying array of Facebook posts and a relentless online push. Momentum has definitely shifted Republican as we get close to the finish line.

Email marketing

If it were a fight based on which campaign is doing a better job of leveraging email marketing—it would have been stopped months ago.

Romney’s email campaigns are horrendous. The campaign has used the same boring direct mail newsletter for the entire campaign. It truly is insulting to anyone who knows anything about direct marketing and email. There is absolutely no creativity and no innovative copy, design, or messaging. It appears that the strategy has been executed by the weakest link on the team.

In contrast, Obama’s email outreach has been crisp, innovative and on-message. The comparison between the two is the difference between knowledgeable interactive marketers and direct mail professionals trying to do email.

Broadcast messaging

Much has been said about the insane amount of money being spent on television commercials throughout the primary season and the national campaign. We are witnessing a meteoric rise in the negativity of these commercials, many of which have crossed the line in terms of ethics and professional discourse. We may well have reached the point at which consumers and viewers are turned off when watching these commercials.

What if you ran a 30-second spot ad nauseam and no one cared or watched? Our broadcast network pundits flirt with this issue from time to time, understanding that they must advocate a position that “negative ads” do work as validation for the billions of dollars that line their election year P&Ls.

Direct mail

Both campaigns have done a solid job of creating impactful direct mail packages. What’s surprising is the use of surrogates as a key component in the campaigns. Voters have received packages from candidates, senators, first ladies, sons, daughters, and campaign chairman.

Each carried a similar message and drumbeat: We can’t afford to allow the other candidate to win; you must provide us with the funds to do battle and defeat our foe. The direct mail messaging here seems to be pretty dated and not at all engaging. In fact, around our house, after opening and chronicling, the content was recycled. Post-election, it will be interesting to see just how significant a role this channel played in 2012.

Who’s the campaign champ?

From my vantage point, it’s abundantly clear that team Obama has done a much better job in leveraging the full toolkit available to wage brand battle, but Mitt Romney’s social media strategy has come on strong in recent days and that might be enough to tip the election in his direction.

While the president’s team has done a masterful marketing job, it’s clear that the real time impact of economic, societal, and global affairs may undermine the tremendous lead and momentum that the president has amassed early in the campaign. Election night will be a fight to the finish for both brands—or shall I say and candidates.

It is possible that after all of the spending and strategizing, the X-factor in determining winner and loser may come down to the state of our economy and international politics. It’s going to be a late night.

Al DiGuido is CEO of Optimus Publishing. He has more than 30 years of marketing, publishing, advertising, and operations experience.

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