Why McCain’s online marketing sucked

I’m doing my first video post today, so I hope you’ll cut me a little slack.  If you particularly enjoy the format, leave a comment down below.  I couldn’t say everything I wanted to say without making it into a 12-minute video (the one below is 6 minutes), so I wrote about some of the other points I cut out while editing.

There’s no question that Obama’s marketing campaign was one of the most amazing, grandiose, and well-executed plans in the history of marketing.  But I’m honestly tired of reading about it, so let’s talk about why McCain’s online campaign kinda sucked(*) and how you can avoid his mistakes.

First of all, McCain didn’t have a chance in this election from a marketing standpoint.  You might be thinking, “Oh that’s easy to say now that Obama is president, hindsight’s 20/20, blah blah blah.”  The reason I say that is because Obama was completely congruent with his marketing.  Social networking, texting, Twitter, myBarackObama.com — all this stuff made sense.  It felt like it was a natural extension of what he was trying to accomplish.

McCain’s marketing team, on the other hand, made a completely hollow attempt at some of the stuff Obama was doing.  McCainSpace.com?  Really?  A 72-year old who doesn’t use email has his own social network? Give me a break.  It was totally incongruous with who he was as a person.  And yea, I know that he had to put up something in order to compete with Obama in the online world, but his site sucked compared to his opponent’s.  They didn’t put much effort into setting it up… and it showed.

For instance, a lot of users reported getting error messages when trying to set up their profiles.  Then once you registered with McCainSpace, there wasn’t really anything to do.  You couldn’t pull other people in as easily as you could on myBarackObama, and it wasn’t a great experience.  You didn’t feel like you were truly a part of something once you got in.

Unfortunately for McCain’s team, they were painfully unaware of how effective the internet is at word-of-mouth marketing when it is utilized correctly.  As I said in my last post, online word-of-mouth is the cheapest, easiest, and most effective form of marketing on the planet.  Obama’s team, however (which consisted of one of Facebook’s founders), was intimately familiar with the power and dynamics of social networks and highly filtered data.  They used their site to empower Obama supporters — to enable them to set up meetings, print out certain kinds of flyers, find unregistered voters, etc.  Obama gave his supporters the necessary tools they could use so that his campaign would win from the bottom up, and not the top down.

So what did we learn from the whole experience that you can apply to your company?

McCainSpace was a meatball sundae – it just wasn’t his style.  It was a “me too” marketing attempt just so he could say he was doing what Obama was doing.  Don’t do that.  You don’t need to set up your own social network or have your own viral video just so you can be like your competitor.  Ning, Facebook, Youtube, Twitter, blogs, texting — it’s irrelevant which one you use because they’re just tools.  Highly effective tools, but still just tools.

If a particular form of social media doesn’t mesh with your company and what you’re trying to accomplish, then don’t use it.  If you’re not going to utilize that tool to the fullest extent, then don’t use it.  Don’t make a superficial attempt at something just because others are doing it.  Pick the tools that will work really well for you, that you’ll actually enjoy using frequently, and stick with those.

(*) And just to clarify: I am NOT saying McCain lost solely because of his marketing.  I am saying his marketing efforts weren’t that good.

8 comments on “Why McCain’s online marketing sucked

  1. Dude, great first video!

    Meanwhile, what’s with the knocking on Space Invaders? I love that game. I play it every time I’m at my favourite bar in Montreal.

  2. Good video man, definitely enjoyed it. I like how you zoomed in on specific stuff on the actual websites–pretty impressive. I agree on the lessons we can learn from the website, but I think it’s good that you pointed out that this was not the main reason McCain lost–it probably had more to do with the economy.

  3. @Aidan – Honestly, I like it, too. But I wouldn’t use it as a ploy to reach out to the college crowd when I’m running for leader of the free world : )

    @Andy – Thanks man. Yea, I completely agree with you. McCain did not lose because of his marketing… but it definitely didn’t help him too much, either.

  4. Good post. True, McCain tried to do something that was not natural to him just because “the other guy was doing it”. That’s a recipe for disaster.

    But McCain made other mistakes too: he never articulated a clear message, he jumped from one issue to another, and his campaign didn’t have a central theme.

    On the other hand, it wouldn’t be fair to attribute Obama’s victory only to his command of social media. He had a simple message that resonated with people (change) and that helped the idea spread.

    At the same time, let’s not forget about the help he got from the mainstream media who clearly wanted him elected (remember how they gave him a pass on his past associations with shady characters, while giving Sarah Palin crap for spending too much on clothes).

  5. @Mario – Thanks for your comment. I don’t think you and I are in disagreement – I do not attribute Obama’s victory to his awesome marketing, nor do I attribute McCain’s loss to his poor marketing. There are other factors, certainly, but I have more marketing knowledge than I do political so I stick to talking about that : )

  6. Showing someone 9 other buttons that essentially say “sign up” immediately after someone signs up is a stunningly bad choice that I would expect in the seedy, spammy areas of the web. Pork Invaders is a clear indication that the social media strategy was poorly conceived.

    Impressive first effort for the video. Very nicely done!

  7. Pingback: Why Obama’s Youtube sucks « Hoehn’s Musings

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