Will Wilson is a former GOVERNING correspondent.E-mail: email@example.com
From the Department of Why Didn't I Think of That:
Patchwork Nation has set up email accounts for imaginary voters in 11 different regions of the country, and signed them up at both the McCain and Obama campaign websites. The difference between emails sent from the two camps speaks volumes about how each e-campaigns.
Obama targets emails to the interests of his supporters, sending green messages to those concerned about global warming and lobbying reform missives to those who think Washington is broken; McCain doesn't.
Obama asks supporters to fill out marketing-like surveys, and really uses the responses. Consider this example:
Our Lincoln City, Ore., supporter, for instance, told the Obama campaign that the environment is a big issue for her, as it is for many in the city. Lo and behold, in June she received an Obama e-mail offering her a 100 percent organic cotton T-shirt picturing a tree sprouting out of the Obama campaign logo, for a donation of $30 or more. "Support the environment and our campaign with this high-quality, earth-friendly T-shirt," the e-mail read.
McCain's emails, in contrast, might only target particular communities when the senator is visiting that locale.
Of course, we don't really know how much net benefit such precision emailing really provides, if any. Patchwork Nation isn't privy to the email open rates. These campaigns are sending out a couple emails a week. And lots of people have dummy email accounts for the spam that arises when they register with stores, websites or even political campaigns. It wouldn't surprise me if the vast majority of e-literature never sees the light of a computer screen.
The anecdotal evidence--Obama's phenomenal, out-of-nowhere fundraising--suggests that his painstaking approach helps a lot. But it might be that McCain is wise not to spend too much time or resources on getting his email campaign just right.
The Patchwork Nation folks get some fascinating insights from a simple idea; I'm eagerly awaiting the richer studies that they'll be able to provide from their research when Campaign '08 is said and done.
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