Presidential election 2008: The year of mobile campaigning?

Just a couple of presidential elections ago, a few pioneering campaign organizers began courting potential voters and donors via the Internet. According to panelists at the first panel session at Marketing the Mobile Channel at CTIA Wireless, the 2008 presidential election could be remembered as the one that candidates began to leverage the mobile platform effectively.

Last time around, the Rock the Vote 2004 campaign sent out SMS reminders to a number of 18- to 29-year-olds who opted-in to receive the reminder. According to  Richard Robbins, director of Media Innovation at AT&T Mobility, which co-sponsors Rock the Vote, the young people who received the text messages were 4 percent more likely to vote.

"If Rock the Vote has a big enough text message list this time around, it could have a real impact on the election," Robbins said.

Rock the Vote isn't the only political organizer that is making use of the mobile platform-TXTmob, had been steadily gaining momentum in the past few years. The company famously aided protesters at the Republican National Committee convention in New York City in 2004. TXTmob allowed protesters to send text messages to all of the attendees at the rally that signed up for the notifications. Users of the service were able to avoid areas where massive arrests were taking place and reporters used it to find out where the action was for stories.

Justin Oberman, editor of MoPocket and longtime adviser to political organizations looking to utilize the mobile platform, noted that the creator of TXTmob was subpoenaed by the state of New York today for information about TXTmob users from the RNC protests.

Rock the Vote and TXTmob, however, have been using the mobile platform for a few years, and while the power of mobile is clearly effective at reminding potential voters to go to the booths and routing protesters around the police barricades, it's still unclear whether SMS can help endear a presidential candidate to a potential voter.

CEO and founder of Distributive Networks, Kevin Bertram, said that the response to Democratic presidential contender Barack Obama's SuperBowl advertisement that included a shortcode that supporters could text "HOPE" to in order to subscribe to texts from his campaign. (See the full video below.)

"The response was tremendous," Bertram teased. "The campaign won't let us release the number of how many people phoned in though." The Obama campaign also had Distributive Networks create a WAP site, but Bertram said that Obama's legal team never approved it.

Now that two-time presidential contender John Edwards has dropped his most recent bid for the Democrat nomination, Jed Alpert of founder and CEO of mCommons was able to release some of the metrics surrounding Edwards mobile efforts: Edwards' campaign sent a text message to about 10,000 supporters who agreed to receive text updates from the campaign that provided a link to hear some disparaging remarks that conservative talking head Ann Coulter made about John Edwards. Those that clicked on the link were "slightly more" generous than other online donors, Alpert said.

Other panelists seemed to reach a consensus that Obama's use of the mobile phone in that commercial trumped other candidate's mobile strategy, especially Hillary Clinton's mobile efforts. Oberman noted that the Clinton campaign sent supporters who signed up for mobile alerts a message that instructed them to go online to the Clinton website to vote on which song should be her campaign theme-song. Oberman lightly criticized the move as a less effective use of the mobile platform.

"They should have made it like an American Idol-style text-to-vote," Oberman said. "Vote right from the phone."

Bertram agreed that the theme-song text message was a missed opportunity for the Clinton campaign, but also noted that it's too early to be harsh on political campaigns for such missteps. "It's too early on… no time to be throwing stones," he said. -Brian

CORRECTION: The original version of this article incorrectly stated that MTV was still a sponsor/partner of Rock the Vote and that the text messaging campaign the organization did led to a 40 percent spike in voter turnout for those young people that received them: It should have read "4 percent." 



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