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Hillary vs. Barack: Who Had the Smartest Media Strategy?

Optimedia's Antony Young Rates the Campaigns

By Published on .

Antony Young
Antony Young
The race for the Democrat presidential nomination has been an intensely competitive contest, the equivalent of marketing's Coke vs. Pepsi or Ford vs. GM. In the battle that was Brand Obama vs. Brand Clinton, targeted demographics, TV ads, digital strategies, brand integrations and viral campaigns have all played a role in promoting the two candidates' campaigns.

As we finally reached the end of the Democrat primaries and Sen. Barack Obama has been declared the presumptive nominee, it seems timely to analyze his and Sen. Hillary Clinton's respective media strategies. As we know, advertising isn't the only determiner of success. The product itself, the press and, no doubt, the sentiment of the consumer are all very influential factors. But with some $120 million spent by the two candidates in the past 12 months behind media and marketing activity, how did they perform?

5 stars Outstanding/Innovative
4 stars Highly effective
3 stars Good
2 stars Disappointing
1 star Disaster

Direct-Response Media
Obama: 5 stars
Clinton: 3.5 stars

As has been widely documented, Obama's success has been due in part to his significantly larger media budget, spurred by an early sense of his being the "underdog," and subsequently more effective fundraising effort. Obama's camp prioritized new-media strategies early on, and relied on online activity and a social-network-style campaign website. After Clinton loaned her campaign $5 million, the Obama team responded by sending out an e-mail to its supporters the next day that read, "We need to match this quickly, can you help?" Within 24 hours respondents donated $8 million.

Media Cost Effectiveness/ROI
Obama: 3 stars
Clinton: 3 stars

Clearly, Obama had a larger budget and significantly outspent the Clinton camp. The relative closeness of the race showed that Clinton was able to deliver a big bang for her buck, and suggests that her campaign's marketing programs were more cost-effective. Obama, on the other hand, had to launch himself as a new brand with low or no consumer awareness. An example of the spending implications, early in Texas (a state which Clinton eventually won) her campaign claimed it was outspent 2-1 or 3-1. Obama's marketing efforts were able to narrow a 20-point lead to 4 points in the space of three to four months in a state in which the Clintons had been effectively campaigning the past 40 years.

TV Buying: Initial Branding Campaign
Obama: 4 stars
Clinton: 2 stars

Obama focused his TV ads around a core message -- change. Clinton's message has not been nearly as simple. In the six months leading up to the Iowa caucus, Obama focused much of his TV budget in Iowa, whereas Clinton spread her budget across many more states.

TV Buying: Tactical Campaigns
Clinton: 4 stars
Obama: 2 stars

Clinton was clearly more effective in her use of tactical TV activity. The "3 a.m." ad had an impact. The "small town bitter" ads prior to the Pennsylvania caucus worked for her and slowed Obama's momentum. Obama also lost points due to overspending in Pennsylvania, Texas and Ohio. Texas voters complained about saturation on the airwaves, with a poll by American Research Group revealing that 23% of Pennsylvania voters and 19% of Ohio voters claimed that excessive advertising by Obama helped lead them to supporting the other candidate. Hillary also used TV reasonably effectively to soften her image at an important time.

Search Strategy
Clinton: 3 stars
Obama: 2 stars

Obama outspent Hillary in paid search, but according to SEO specialist Michael Fleischner, Clinton out-ranked Obama on her use of organic search. On Google, Hillary ranked within the top 20 listings on 717 related political keyword phrases. By comparison, Obama only ranked in the top 20 for 201 political keywords searches.

Social Media
Obama: 5 stars
Clinton: 2 stars

At the start of her campaign, Clinton was featured heavily on blogs and was an early proponent of YouTube. Readers may remember the Clinton's spot set in the New Jersey diner that was a spoof on the series finale of "The Sopranos." However, Obama won the user-generated media channel decisively. Nearly three times more videos were uploaded by the Obama camp vs. Clinton camp, with 10 times more views. The viral impact of the "I got a crush ... on Obama" video by "Obama Girl" and its various spinoffs enjoyed more than 60 million views on YouTube. Obama also exploited having more than 1 million Facebook and MySpace friends. His use of social media has not just helped him to connect with younger voters, but has also been an incredibly efficient way of keeping him in the media.

Specialist or Niche Media
Obama: 1 star
Clinton: no rating

Antony Young is president of Optimedia U.S., a Publicis Groupe company. His first book, 'Profitable Marketing Communications' (Kogan Page) was published late last year.
Obama was one of the first presidential candidates to use specialist press to target the Lesbian Bisexual Gay Transgender market in Texas, but failed to make any significant in-roads with the Hispanic market. If ever there was a need for an overt Hispanic media strategy, this was one. African-American-owned media criticized him for not supporting them; perhaps he felt this was one market that he didn't need to spend more media dollars against. Clinton, with her limited funds, focused more on general media.

One-to-one Media
Obama: 4 stars
Clinton: 2 stars

This is an area where Obama gained a competitive advantage. From his strategy to focus on grass-root events to gimmicks such as Chris Rock voice-mail messages and exploiting the 1 million-plus e-mail addresses that were acquired through a fundraising database, Obama's one-to-one media strategies helped him gain ground.

Media Innovations
Clinton: 3 stars
Obama: 3 stars

Hillary did some nice in-program "branded integrations" with appearances on Jon Stewart's "The Daily Show" and "Saturday Night Live." Plus, she bought a nicely targeted hour-long slot on the Hallmark Channel to broadcast the town hall meeting in the run up to Super Tuesday. Obama pulled off a coup to buy a spot in the Super Bowl across local Fox affiliates in 24 states.

Overall Media Communication-Planning Strategy
Obama: 4 stars
Clinton: 3 stars

Obama wins overall. His campaign's ability to create personal relationships via mass-marketing techniques characterized his media strategy. The employment of digital media channels -- notably his website, use of social media and e-mail marketing -- helped gain younger voter support and proved effective in fundraising, a critical factor in sustaining a heavy marketing effort. His early strategy to build his brand, and later deliver a more targeted broadcast media schedule that was supported by on-the-ground events and one to one media programs, helped him to build momentum in Iowa and allowed him to launch his campaign as a viable contender. Clinton's campaign was very effective in adjusting its strategies, and dollar-for-dollar outperformed Obama in traditional broadcast.
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