NEW YORK Shortly after 11:30 p.m. last Tuesday, thousands of supporters and volunteers received an e-mail from Sen. Barack Obama. It read: “I’m about to head to Grant Park to talk to everyone gathered there, but I wanted to write to you first. We just made history.” He then thanked all of the people who dedicated their “time, talent and passion to this campaign.”
The e-mail blast was more symbolic than informative. It conveyed the message that Obama is more in touch with the way people communicate today, according to campaign watchers.
Many agree Obama used new media to more effectively tell his story and raise money for his campaign. Both were key factors in helping secure a victory.
The e-mail blast “may feel a little gimmicky, but it also allowed people to feel they were going to be in the know and a part of something sooner than others,” said Andy Chapman, co-head of the interactive unit at WPP’s Mindshare.
Obama used the same technique to announce his running mate, Senator Joe Biden, shortly before the Democratic Convention in August. “That’s kind of the way we’re starting to collect information, with all the different channels and overload today,” said Chapman. “We tend to pull bits of information in from all over the place in a multitasking approach that’s attractive to people. Both campaigns were doing it, but Obama’s was much more visible.”
While Obama used new media in unprecedented ways, including placing ads on video games, it was old media — primarily spot TV — that drove his decisive win over Sen. John McCain, media experts said.
Obama outspent McCain by more than $100 million in the last four months of the campaign, per Evan Tracey, chief operating officer at political ad tracker TNS Campaign Media Analysis Group. The overflowing war chest enabled him to win crucial battleground states such as Virginia, Ohio and Indiana. “Obama’s spending advantage was decisive,” said Tracey. “He literally packed on the tonnage.” This included doling out $11 million more than McCain in the Washington, D.C., television market. This helped him win nearby counties in Virginia, which four years earlier had been easily captured by George Bush.
Obama even spent big in his hometown Chicago market, not because he had any concerns about winning Illinois but because stations there reach crucial counties in Indiana, a bastion of conservatism which went with Bush in 2004. But last week, after spending $2 million more than McCain, the Hoosier state went Democratic in the presidential race.
“It’s what I call McCain’s Chicago problem,” said Tracey. “Obama could reach 13 percent of Indiana voters by spending there that was largely unmatched by his opponent.” In fact, Obama spent freely and almost unopposed in many other large markets as well, including Boston, Philadelphia and Miami.
Tracey estimates that Obama spent about $250 million on ads during the general election, compared to $130 million for McCain. During the course of the entire 18-month battle, presidential campaign ad spending totaled about $700 million, up 40 percent from the $500 million that was spent four years ago.
Obama’s campaign bought so many more TV ads in swing states than McCain that he achieved more than double the exposure to his messages, according to Gregory Aston, svp, director of competitive intelligence at Havas’ MPG
Obama was achieving 98 percent reach and a frequency rate of 20 to 25 exposures a week to viewers 18-plus with his messages, said Aston. McCain was reaching the same audience levels but with only about 10 exposures a week. “Obama was completely saturating those markets,”said Aston. “He got his messages across, about his character, the issues and differences between him and his opponent. And for constituents who want to learn more, he directed them to Web sites.”
In some respects, said Tracey, “what was old was new again.” Candidates earmarked significant money for network television — most visibly during the Olympics.
Obama, however, added a new twist by airing a half-hour infomercial the week before the election.
For new media, Obama outspent McCain at a rate of 10-to-1, Aston said. “It clearly played out in Obama’s favor with fundraising and providing research resources” for interested voters, he said.
The massive cash advantage enabled Obama to execute a multilayered campaign with many more messages appealing to different constituencies, said Tracey. “I compare it to Geico. They have the cavemen, the gecko, the celebrities, the kids on the go cart — different looks that all end with the same message of saving you money on car insurance,” Tracey said.
Obama produced ads about healthcare, the economy, the voting process. “Everything looked new and fresh and ended with the words change or hope,” he said.
By contrast, McCain, with less to spend on creative, “looked like a battering ram with just one or two ads in a market giving the perception he was running this negative campaign. Obama was running that stuff too. He just had more to spend on positive messages as well,” Tracey said.