From a purely marketing standpoint, Barack Obama has created the most sophisticated marketing campaign I’ve ever seen.
I think there are some lessons advertising agencies can learn from this. It’s the subject of my new column on Talent Zoo, which you can read right here:

Putting policies and positions aside for this discussion, Barack Obama has created the most sophisticated marketing program I’ve ever seen.
Decades of GM, Coca-Cola, and Proctor & Gamble efforts can’t compare to what this guy’s done in one year.
In the interest of full disclosure, yes, I donated a small amount of money to his campaign. And it gave me a window into a marketing operation that should be a case study in any college marketing textbook or agency account planning handbook.

It’s a marketing program that’s both run from the top down and organized from the bottom up. Sure, he has a team of advisors and full-time campaign managers and staffers. But millions of people have become involved and engaged thanks in large part to sheer marketing savvy.
I’d like to cite a few examples.
Obama’s team created a website that not only links to a dozen social networking websites, it is a social networking website unto itself. Featuring a searchable database of local and regional groups. And where anyone can have their own “my.barackobama.com” web page, with their own personal blog and fundraising goals. A friend of a friend of mine had set one up, and that’s the page through which I made my donation. I’d never met this person—but he contacted me personally to thank me. A new connection made.
After that, I’d get e-mails from the campaign, regularly. Yes, it’s weird to get an e-mail in my in-box that’s marked “From” Barack Obama. But they’re targeted, sophisticated e-mails. Less than 30 minutes after Barack Obama was declared the winner in Georgia’s primary, I got an e-mail thanking me for my support.
When Hillary Clinton decided she’d loan her campaign $5 million, I got an e-mail from the Obama campaign trying to match the amount. The e-mail had a running total of the money raised. And every time I opened up that same e-mail again, the money amount would be changed and updated in real-time. Maybe I’m a bit naïve about rich e-mails, but that was a “holy shit, that’s cool” moment for me that no consumer ad campaign has provided lately.
Then there’s the citizen-generated content. YouTube videos, posters, songs – much of it generated by ordinary citizens, some created by professional musicians, artists, and ad people. This is the kind of marketing that’s being preached by the “let’s have a engaging two-way conversation with our customers-as-friends” crowd. With Barack Obama, it’s become fully realized. Perhaps it’s no surprise that the least impressive portion of the campaign appear to be the official TV ads. They’re good, but hardly different from most political commercials.
In the face of all this hype, adulation and fast success, Obama supporters have been called a cult. That’s OK. So are Apple fans and Harley-Davidson owners. If you think this is bad for America and politics, remember: This is the world advertising created, one where a name or a product can be made to stand for more than its functionality.
But product performance is still the key. Let’s say Obama gets elected President on the strength of this brand he created. He still has to give good customer service for 4 years. And people will be disappointed if the product doesn’t reflect the hype.
I wish more agencies and clients would learn from the Barack Obama campaign. Yes, it’s an expensive, unique campaign – but it’s also well-staffed. There are lots of people doing the work, both at headquarters and in the field. It’s a fast-responding organization despite its size.
Plus, it appears quite a few of Obama’s people, particularly the web staff, are empowered to react. They know how to move fast in a way that advertising agencies and clients don’t. Some of my clients sit on little jobs like brochures or emails for days or weeks before they approve or reject them. Some have taken a year or more to refine their brand identity. And we can’t convince them to quicken the pace for their own good. Is it any wonder people think ad agencies are out of sync with the pace of today’s world?
Perhaps someone will create an advertising model that’s built on this type of campaign—one where a large, fast, intensive, results-oriented team takes a major marketer’s $75 or $100+ million annual budget and creates a national integrated campaign. Then that team disperses and reforms as needed for other major efforts. No, it’s not the most stable of organizational models, but that’s how political marketing works, and Barack Obama showed how it can be done to generate awareness and results far above and beyond what many ad agencies accomplish today.
Too many advertising people hold their noses up at political marketing, and for good reason. For too long it’s been condescending, nasty and pedestrian, and perhaps we should get rid of it altogether. But it’s here, it’s being done well, and the advertising industry should examine the success of the Obama campaign for ideas and tactics.
Maybe then we’d get some change we can believe in.

About Dan Goldgeier

Blogging on AdPulp since 2005, Dan Goldgeier is a Seattle-based freelance copywriter with experience at advertising agencies across the U.S. He is a graduate of the Creative Circus ad school, and currently teaches at Seattle's School of Visual Concepts. In addition, he is a regular columnist for TalentZoo.com. Dan published the best of his TalentZoo.com columns in a book entitled View From The Cheap Seats: A Broader Look at Advertising, Marketing, Branding, Global Politics, Office Politics, Sexual Politics, and Getting Drunk During a Job Interview. Look for it on Amazon in paperback and e-book editions.


  1. Tom Messner says:

    Interesting and very different take on political ad marketing than you usually get from Madison Avenue people.
    I always thought that what I learned in the three political campaigns I worked on (84, 86, 88) was more than what the politicos learned from me; and it all was very useful in creating a viable ad agency in the late 80s and early 90s.
    Marty Puris worked on Bush in ’92, and said later that the poltical media people all thought the Madison Avenue people were wimps and esthetes, while the product ad people all thought the political guys were philistines and manipulators, but bad at it–for which they “held their noses up” while ignoring analysis of the strategies and executions that created failed campaigns (Dukakis, Bush ’92, Kerry) and successful ones (Clinton twice, Bush’88, Bush ’04).
    One thing I presume to have learned in the political races was that the product was even more important than in product/services marketing.
    Obama and McCain may be rare examples of people who are what they seem to be. The former has only changed–they say–in being less of a policy wonk than he was at the beginning of his career and talking broader; the latter is exactly what he was when he ran in 2000 with less press access being the only difference.

  2. Thanks, Tom. I’m not on Madison Avenue, you know! I’m a little South of there these days 😉

  3. Tom Messner says:

    Oddly, I no longer work on Madison Avenue either, but I do live on it.

  4. Very insightful post Danny. Thanks. And IMHO, the branding gurus can learn a thing or two as well.

  5. Great article it gives us a really good inside of how he managed his e-campaigning.

  6. Funny spoof of this poster here:
    Obama: Hope is Taupe

  7. obama ya me says:

    yah mans hes my nigga ya first black predz he kicks mccains whiteass its now the black house

  8. Mr.Hariadi Tjokrowisastro says:

    My name is Hariadi, obama very perceft