Obama Text Campaign Reached 2.9 Million: Nielsen

Posted on by Chief Marketer Staff

The Obama campaign may not have been able to come through on its promise to let supporters know the ticket’s vice presidential choice before anyone else. But the campaign to spread the word out about the choice of Democratic Sen. Joe Biden of Delaware, as running mate did make the record books for being the largest single mobile marketing event in the U.S., according to research by Nielsen Mobile.

Nielsen Mobile, a division of The Nielsen Co., estimates that 2.9 million U.S. mobile subscribers got a text message from the Obama campaign last weekend carrying the news of the running mate selection.

Nielsen extrapolated the scope of the text messaging effort by studying shortcode marketing to its phone bill payment panel, an opt-in group of 40,000 subscribers who voluntarily let Nielsen monitor their telecommunications billing. Since its start in April 2007, the Obama campaign has been asking voters to send their cellphone numbers to shortcodes such as OBAMA (62262) to receive text alerts about appearances in their areas.

On Aug. 10, the campaign announced that those who registered their mobile phone numbers at the shortcode would receive the name of the running mate before anyone else.

So far, neither the Obama campaign, nor the firm that ran the mobile-marketing effort, Distributive Networks, has released figures regarding how many Obama supporters signed up for the mobile alerts or how many were sent.

But Covey says his company’s estimate of 2.9 million message receivers makes sense, given the growing base of SMS users. Nielsen concludes that 52% of U.S. mobile subscribers, or some 116 million users, actively use text messaging.

“It’s clear that this is the biggest single SMS marketing event to date,” Covey said. “I’ve looked at some of the biggest participation-TV events of the last few years, and at campaigns from some brands that have done a great job of employing SMS. But nobody’s been able to pull 2.9 million uniques.”

That last point is important, Covey said. Other SMS campaigns have racked up bigger traffic numbers in terms of messages; for example, AT&T claims that last season’s “American Idol” audience sent 78 million text messages over the course of the TV season. But those votes come from a much smaller base of senders, since fans can vote as many times as they want for their Idol favorites.

“We’ve found that ‘American Idol’ fans tend to text in about 38 votes a month,” Covey said. “So when you see these very impressive numbers, they represent multiple votes from participants—many multiples, in some cases.”

That gives the Obama SMS effort the edge in total audience. Not that the text message campaign went off without a hitch.

On Aug. 10, the Obama campaign announced that those who registered their mobile phone numbers at the OBAMA shortcode would receive the running mate’s name at 3 a.m. ET on Aug. 24, before Obama and Biden appeared at a rally in Springfield IL.

CNN, however, scooped the news around midnight Saturday morning. In addition, a number of supporters who had signed up for the early SMS notices apparently still had not received them by breakfast time on Saturday.

The blog “Beta News” quoted one would-be recipient who said in a 10:14 a.m. Saturday post on Twitter that she was still “pining for her text message from Obama. Biden my time, in fact.”

Distributive Networks CEO Kevin Bertram told The Associated Press that simultaneous broadcast of the Obama text message to all registrants would not have been possible, since the text message had to be routed through the various wireless carriers used by subscribers. Internal networks at those providers can themselves be the source of delays, he said.

“Marketers should probably view this as a case study that time-sensitive announcements may not be the best way into this medium,” Covey said. “But getting scooped on the announcement does not take away from what Obama’s achieved here: having an intimate personal interaction with 2.9 million of his supporters.”

For more coverage on interactive marketing

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