On Message

Raldon Lumpkins, 20, hits the streets of San Francisco today. His mission is to produce articles, blogs and videos of concern to young voters interested in the upcoming presidential election. The work is for the nonprofit Rock the Vote, which uses music, pop culture and new technologies to engage young people in the political process. And the tool he’ll wield to produce it is an AT&T Samsung BlackJack II personal digital assistant, equipped with, among other things, a 2-megapixel camera, GPS, 3-D graphics and, of course, text messaging.

“It’s one-stop shopping when it comes to phones,” says Lumpkins of the BlackJack II. “And if I like using it, I’ll tell my friends this is cool and you should get one.”

That’s exactly what AT&T was betting on when it hooked up with RTV for its “Rock the trail” campaign, which will put five young reporters out on the street with the phones, as well as offer the company numerous branding opportunities.

“We knew going in that the election would be the biggest story of the year and that everyone would be focused on it,” says AT&T representative Susan Bean. “And we had a strong sense that text messaging to this election cycle would be what the Internet was with Howard Dean in 2004. [The partnership] is a way to showcase our technology.”

AT&T is not alone in marketing directly to young voters. Nokia, Adobe Systems and even the National Beer Wholesalers Association are among those aiming to reach politically engaged 18- to 30-year-olds (millennials of voting age), a group whose growing numbers has become one of the primary season’s most interesting twists. More than 6.5 million voters under 30 showed up to vote in caucuses and primaries this season — a 109 percent increase from the last presidential primaries, according to RTV statistics. Youth voter turnout for the November election is expected to at least match the 49 percent of young people who voted for president in 2004.

It makes sense, then, that marketers, already keenly aware of the power of word-of-mouth communication, would want their products and services to be used and seen by this highly involved and passionate demographic.

George Mason University associate professor Michael McDonald, an expert on voter participation, notes that marketers who tap into the networks created by political organizations can become an organic part of young people’s lives whether they’re campaigning door-to-door or creating content for Web sites. It “ties [a company’s] product to the election,” he says.

The halo effect

AT&T’s RTV partnership is part of a branding initiative to move the company from the “old AT&T, a century-old, iconic brand largely thought of as the telephone company, to the new AT&T, an innovation-driven, youth-oriented company with mobile at its core,” says Bean. “Rock the Vote with its halo effect of youth and rock ‘n’ roll is a perfect fit.”

Although the communications company may be literally putting its product in the hands of only five reporters, the content it helps create will appear on the Web sites of BET, online magazine Wiretap, Washingtonpost.com and rockthevote.com, which the youth registration group expects will garner 50 million viewers this election cycle.

The AT&T logo will also appear on rockthevote.com and alongside the RTV logo on marketing materials including in-store displays and at a number of upcoming summer music festivals that RTV sponsors.

AT&T, which announced the partnership during the Iowa caucuses in January, also participated in an RTV text-message initiative to turn out young voters during the March 4 primaries in Texas, Ohio, Rhode Island and Vermont. The effort generated 21 print and 55 broadcast stories, including coverage on MSNBC, The Montel Williams Show and in The Washington Post, according to Bean.