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Does Your Phone Know Your Vote? Politics Go Mobile
Wednesday, April 18th, 2012 | Comments | Latest Posts

Obama mobile appAs technology advances, so does marketing. In less than a year, we’ve gone from marveling at Siri to hoping to hear our company’s name on her lips; from sharing Instagram photos to having marketers profit from our photos (or at least we’re perilously close to the latter). And as election season approaches, the targeting–and the use of technology–will only get more precise.

Politics take targeting to a whole new level. Politicians don’t just target you to get the votes they want, they target you so their opponents don’t get the votes they want. Companies sometimes use similar negative tactics in advertising, but the practice seems far more widespread in politics. Sometimes it feels like politicians will stop at nothing to get their message out. So why hasn’t any 2012 presidential campaign truly attacked mobile yet?

Both campaigns have Squared up for mobile donations, reflecting the central role of money in politics. Obama has a mobile app that enables easy donations and news updates, but doesn’t integrate as well with the website’s more extensive list of issues. The advent of mobile may pose a particular challenge for the Republican Party:

“The left has been using this kind of technology to beat us for years,” said Drew Ryun, president of a conservative grassroots organizing group.

Part of the problem is that mobile enables new forms of “advertising” that are not yet well understood by advertising professionals, much less politicians. TechCrunch co-founder Keith Teare recently observed, regarding our shift to mobile (emphasis added):

…what we are seeing here is the start of a secular trend that represents nothing less than the end of the web 2.0 era where we all consumed services through a browser on a computer. Replacing that era is a new, app-based, message-centric mobile Internet. In this new era the essential unit of advertising (a page based ad, whether text, display or anything else) is simply the wrong monetization vehicle. Something new has to emerge… In this world, page-based ads, interstitials, pop-ups; pop-under; pop-over; and most of the other web era advertising units make absolutely no sense.

Given that politicians had scarcely transitioned to “Web 2.0” in the 2008 presidential election, will they be able to take advantage of the new mobile advertising ecosystem? Does the end of the page-based internet bring with it the end of online advertising, or just the evolution of it? Mobile devices know so much about us that they essentially know what we want before we do. Nowhere else–not perhaps even on my desktop–is there such a collection of information regarding what I do, who I know, where I’ve been, and perhaps even how I’ll vote. Why don’t politicians leverage that?

One obvious obstacle is privacy. Even as the Obama administration has supported privacy online, the Obama campaign has requested significant information from supporters. This allows campaigns to target messaging effectively, potentially at the expense of accuracy (i.e., politicians can now more than ever tell people exactly what they want to hear). And as more and more voters use smartphones exclusively, politicians need a way to connect with their target audience that doesn’t involve traditional landline-based phone banks.

It’s only a matter of time until politics truly go mobile: that is, until politicians begin taking advantage of mobile marketing to solicit donations and event attendance from people nearby, or to push notifications to go vote against that horrid competitor. Mobile may be the next frontier of advertising, which only makes it that much more of a magnet for political money. What are you seeing on the front of politics going mobile?

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