A look inside the Obama spam factory
Bloomberg Businessweek has an interesting look inside the Obama spam factory, where a tidal wave of email solicitations for campaign donations was unleashed against anyone whose email address fell into their clutches:
One fascination in a presidential race mostly bereft of intrigue was the strange, incessant and weirdly overfamiliar e-mails emanating from the Obama campaign.
Anyone who shared an address with the campaign soon started receiving messages from President Barack Obama with subject lines such as “Join me for dinner?” “It’s officially over,” “It doesn’t have to be this way,” or just “Wow.” Jon Stewart mocked them on his “Daily Show” television program. The Hairpin women’s website likened them to notes from a stalker.
Still, they worked. Most of the $690 million that Obama raised online came from fundraising e-mails. During the campaign, Obama’s staffers wouldn’t answer questions about them or the alchemy that made them so successful. Now that the president has won re-election, they’re opening the black box, Bloomberg Businessweek reports in its Dec. 3 issue.
This was all part of what amounted to a psychological-warfare operation conducted by the Obama campaign team, which hired psy-ops consultants and hard-core marketing gurus as part of its fundraising and get-out-the-vote efforts. (Meanwhile, the Romney campaign was spending its money on… other things.) Every Republican campaign consultant worth his salt is currently studying the successful Obama tactics, so we should all become rats in a mind-war maze during the 2016 campaign. It might be safest to throw your computer out the window no later than Summer 2015, and get a typewriter instead.
It’s particularly interesting that Team Obama found certain messaging tactics to be counter-intuitively effective, bringing in money and votes instead of alienating the exasperated targets. The campaign email director told Bloomberg News that the most effective email simply used the word “Hey” as the subject. One of the most profitable fundraising emails read, “I will be outspent.” Remarkable success was encountered with the most painfully obvious attention-getting tricks, such as big fonts and ugly but eye-catching graphics. They also got excellent results from peppering their emails with mild profanity. And their data “didn’t show any negative consequences” to sending an incredibly high volume of messages.
Now, if you’re a heavy email user, your immediate reaction to such a message would probably be to discard it as spam. Emails purporting to originate from Canadian drug companies, deposed Nigerian royalty, and playful girls with web-cams very often have artificially chummy subject lines, to trick readers into thinking it’s a message from a friend. Some spam filters use brief subject lines and overly-familiar key words as part of their targeting logic. Many email users have learned not to send genuine messages with such subject lines to their friends, for fear of being ignored by either the users or their filtering software.
But if you’ve checked your spam traps lately, you’ve probably noticed that these messages keep coming. It’s generally not as bad as it was during the big crisis years of the spam epidemic, when some corporations were discussing the idea of abandoning email altogether, but the electronic scammers and salesmen keep plugging away. Someone has to be falling for those scams and clicking on those virus-infested links, or else even the low-cost, high-volume tactics of electronic junk mail wouldn’t be worth the effort. The Obama campaign team made some assumptions about the willingness of their voting base to fall for such tactics, and was handsomely rewarded.