The marketing of Obama and Romney: it's the data, stupid

The vote may be a week off, weather allowing, the electioneering brouhaha is nearly done with a deadlock predicted - but at least one definitive result is already in.

When it comes to ruthlessly employing state-of-the-art marketing techniques in the 2012 US Presidential election, Barack Obama's camp has pipped the team supporting Republican challenger Mitt Romney, though their spend on TV is currently neck and neck.

On many levels, the intense rivalries of the brand world compare with those in a US election, with campaigns happening in turbo-charged real-time, where one gaffe can be fatal.

Yet the marketing of Presidential candidates is so particularly intense - TV advertising has been at the forefront of either side's knocking strategies - that brands would do well to pore over the takeouts from this campaign (see this week's issue of Marketing).

Whether or not it gets the desired result on 6 November - the race is too close to call, says the New York Times - Team Obama's evolution of its 2008 digital marketing strategy has been impressive, as expected.

As Marketing columnist and social media editor Gordon MacMillan points out, the 2012 Presidential campaign hasn't been all about Facebook. Mobile, online video, Tumblr, Instagram and Pinterest have all had a role; Twitter, in particular, has consolidated its position as the biggest focus group of all.

The real sea-change of this election, however, and one that has already redefined brand marketing, has been the use of targeting, driven by behaviour, demographics and media consumption.

As they (almost) say in the US: 'It's the data, stupid.' It could become the governing truth for politics, as it has for brands.

Better technology and data, in theory, means better targeting. But, as in the imperfect world of brands, US voters have experienced the blunt instrument that is behavioural advertising and the clunky use of data-mining techniques to predict voting intentions.

Questions about data transparency have arisen on US talk shows and blogs alike.

This is why one of the lesser-known bright spots of the 2012 campaign is a PBS website called 'Targeting the electorate', which enables voters to see how the candidates are micro-marketing to them. The need for such accountability has already been grasped on this side of the pond by brands such as Tesco and O2.

Perhaps by the next US election, data, transparently and engagingly used, will underpin the winner's strategy.

Noelle McElhatton is editor of Marketing
Follow me on Twitter: @n_mcelhatton

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