America went to the polls yesterday and re-elected President Obama for his second term. There is much that we can learn from the Obama:Biden 2012 campaign because, much like the 2008 campaign, it was a masterclass in the use of crowdsourcing to drive its messages home.
Obama and his team showed they knew what to say, how to say it and where & when to say it.
In the last few weeks of the campaigns, with the notable exception of the botched first debate, Obama pounded Romney until it was almost too painful to watch. As Cenk Uygur of the Young Turks brilliantly illustrated, Obama employed what we could now call the ‘Massachusetts 48’ trick.
By inaccurately stating that Massachusetts was ranked no.48 of 50 for job creation under the ‘businessman’ Mitt Romney, Obama forced the news networks to check the facts and state for clarity that Romney was in fact no.47 out of the 50 states. It led to restatement after restatement by different parties and drove the message home. Obama didn’t need to repeat his message because everybody else was: whether Massachusetts was ranked 47 or 48, Mitt Romney’s record on job creation was a disaster.
This is viral newscasting across the corporate news media, across all networks and the internet. Brilliantly effective.
Others joined in on Obama’s behalf and said things that he could not say without appearing craven and politicising a tragic event. Whilst New York was under water and without power, Forecast the Facts delivered what has been called the ‘most brutal ad’ of the campaign.
The advert featured Mitt Romney’s distasteful joke about Obama’s pledge to tackle climate change.
Taking the candidate’s own words and putting them against real images of your fellow countrymen suffering under a tropical storm creates an astonishingly powerful message.
Whether it was right or wrong to use the reality of suffering Americans to drive a political point home, it cannot be denied that the advert was truly powerful and accomplished what it set out to do beyond all doubt.
Finally – horses and bayonets. What could these have to do with presidential elections?
I only mention them because Obama did – and what followed was a storm of jokes, images and websites scoring points off Mitt Romney – but for me it was the first time I consciously realised that I’d heard actual political news not through a network but through the phenomenon of the internet meme.
When Romney pledged to increase the size of the US Navy to pre-1916 levels, he opened himself up to a devastating attack by the reinvigorated Obama:
“You — you mentioned the Navy, for example, and that we have fewer ships than we did in 1916. Well, Governor, we also have fewer horses and bayonets — (laughter) — because the nature of our military’s changed. We have these things called aircraft carriers where planes land on them. We have these ships that go underwater, nuclear submarines.”
Within seconds, Twitter exploded with jokes about ‘horses and bayonets’. Within 30 minutes, people had already registered websites such as horsesandbayonets.tumblr.com/ and the first spoof images were appearing and being passed around.
What surprised me was that I encountered the memes before the news from official channels like the BBC.
Make your statement; make it powerful, emotive and memorable; and let others do the rest.