The Obama Campaign’s Email Marketing Gets Tough

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In Marketing 101, you learn that there are 3 basic reasons that people buy things: Fear, Gain, and Logic. When you get out into the real world, you realize that — like it or not — Fear is usually the most effective.

However, it’s also the most controversial. Fear based marketing can get you sales, but they can also get you hate mail. And as the Obama campaign learned this week, fear-based appeals can even get you in the headlines.

According to Politico, the Obama campaign has turned to a “guilt” appeal, which is a slightly more advanced version of the straight up scare tactics (fear). In the campaign emails in question, the campaign actually links your email to a 10-digit “supporter number” which lists your “giving history.”

Of course, that’s a passive way of making you feel guilty if your total giving is $0.00 — but they don’t leave it there. The copy reads:

“It looks like you haven’t made an online donation to the campaign yet… If you were waiting for the last minute, you’re pretty much there.”

So there you go, the campaign combines the fear of being outed as a “deadbeat supporter” with scarcity. With the words “last minute,” the campaign is trying to hint out that you’re missing a huge opportunity. It’s as if your donating is some kind of investment opportunity… buy low sell high!

Funny, I’m pretty sure you’ve gotta donate more than $100 to personally benefit from a presidential campaign contribution. It’s a thinly veiled fear tactic… but it’s actually fairly well done and well thought-out.

Fear/scarcity plays are generally considered highly uncool by those in the advertising profession. Honestly, that’s because most of them are very poorly executed and heavy-handed. You’ve seen them, “Better buy this new online course or else all of your friends will laugh at you for missing the opportunity of a lifetime as you wait in the soup line with rabies and body odor!”

I don’t have any big problems with using Fear-based appeals, as long as they’re well executed. Still, in an incumbent President’s re-election campaign, it’s going to rub some people the wrong way.


How does the campaign’s new email approach strike you as a marketer? Is this strategy relevant? Are supporters more likely to donate, or unsubscribe?

About Josh Loposer

Josh is the managing editor of Digital Marketer, as well an aspiring novelist. Find out more about what Josh is working on on Facebook, Google, or on his website.
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