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Obama's Bad Bump (and how we can learn from it)

Posted by Media Relations on Monday, March 10th, 2008 - 1 Comment »

By Kevin Sawyer – Media Relations Specialist

By all accounts, Barack Obama had the Democratic presidential nomination in the bag two weeks ago. All he had to do was come close in states like Ohio, Texas, and Pennsylvania, and coast to Denver this summer. But his campaign made a serious miscue. While floundering in Ohio, Obama’s campaign challenged Hillary Clinton to quit if SHE lost in Ohio. Big mistake…

It used to be that success in American politics consisted of a series of turning points. The Lincoln-Douglas debates, Fireside chats, and the “Checkers” speech all consisted of a politician seizing a moment to elevate his cause. Nobody saw them coming, and nothing was the same after.

Today, if a prominent politician schedules a major event, news venues will analyze the speech from every angle before it has been drafted. Social networking sites will come to a consensus about what he or she should say, and the politician will speak against the backdrop of a plethora of expectations, against which even the most successful speech has the potential to fail. Many will watch the speech on YouTube days later, reading and contributing comments as they watch.

Minnesota experienced record-setting turnout at caucus events. Why? Because voters went to the Internet to ask questions about the previously mysterious process, and were persuaded that their participation mattered. The medium became the message as informed voters took the caucuses to codify the opinions formed on blogs and Facebook.

This brings us to Obama’s mistake. Obama’s campaign staff, confidence inflated by eleven consecutive primary wins, tried to make Tuesday’s primaries into a coronation. While the goal was to put the final nail in the coffin of the Clinton campaign, the message became: “whoever loses Ohio and Texas loses the nomination.” Not what you want to convey when polls have your man behind in both states, eh?

The challenge was delivered via traditional channels, leaving news and social networking sites (many of them friendly to the Obama campaign) to parse the message. Newsweek’s Jonathan Alter penned a column urging Hillary to drop out BEFORE the Tuesday primaries. The expectation was that Obama was going to win big on Tuesday, and Hillary was going to bow out. Now, Hillary’s narrative is one of reversed momentum, and she even has the appearance of a front-runner in spite of the fact that she is trailing substantially.

What the Obama campaign should have done was to leverage many of the social-networking kingmakers who have been so supportive of the campaign to date. The message should have been goal-oriented, changing minds and getting supporters to the polls, producing a steady drumbeat of positive discussion. Instead, they opted for an outdated “turning point” paradigm, in an attempt to create a Lincoln-Douglas moment. Instead, he bombed like a “Daisy” ad.

What can we learn? Well, every company has events, whether they are conferences, product launches, acquisitions or just really great news stories. These singular events have a tremendous impact on the future success of a company. But in today’s marketing landscape, we must always be aware of the discussion that is happening BEFORE our big events. Fair or not, expectations are reality, and online marketing represents an opportunity to set them appropriately.

One Response to “Obama's Bad Bump (and how we can learn from it)”

  1. Ashique Khan Says:

    Will be interesting to see how these social networking sites evolve over time, fingers crossed, but must say it has the potentiality to be a major contributor in shaping people’s psyche not to undermine at least the awareness it might create and be effectively linked to generating value.

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