Obama VP message was single largest mobile marketing event: Nielsen

While Sen. Obama's campaign hasn't released the exact number of messages it pushed out over the weekend to announce his choice of running mate, Nielsen Mobile has an estimate.

The market researcher estimates that 2.9 million U.S. mobile subscribers received a text message from the Obama campaign Aug. 22-24.

"The VP message was sent in the late hours of Friday night and is, by many accounts, the single largest mobile marketing event in the U.S., to date," said Nic Covey, Chicago-based director of insights at Nielsen Mobile.

"From a mobile marketing perspective, it makes sense that the campaign chose to use text messages, he said.

"Today, 116 million U.S. mobile subscribers -- 52 percent of subscribers -- actively use text messaging, making it a new mass medium for marketing efforts," Mr. Covey said.

Short code is short road
The Obama campaign created an air of anticipation in the run-up to the announcement of Sen. Joe Biden as the Democratic vice presidential pick (see story).

Using short code 62262, which spells OBAMA, the campaign encouraged supporters to opt in to receive news of Mr. Obama's decision (see story).

"While much has been said of the timing and the scoop by news outlets, Obama's VP text message still ranks as one of the most important text messages ever sent and one of the most successful brand engagements using mobile media," Mr. Covey said.

Nielsen Mobile's estimate was put together by monitoring short code marketing through what it claims is the world's largest telecommunications bill-panel.

This opt-in panel reports on the billing activity for more than 40,000 subscriber lines nationwide.

Mr. Covey said the value of Sen. Obama's vice presidential choice message goes far beyond the 26 words it took up and the 2.9 million recipients.

"Here, Obama branded himself as cutting-edge, inflated the already enormous press attention paid to his VP pick and further established a list of supporters' most coveted form of contact: their cell phone numbers," he said.

"The success of this text campaign has Madison Avenue thinking even more about how they too can interact with a universe of 116 million text-message users in the U.S.," he said.

So what does this say about the use of text for such mass-messaging?

"The Obama VP text demonstrates clearly that mobile marketing is here and now," Mr. Covey said.

"Without months of tedious planning, the campaign managed to leverage existing infrastructures to engage with their customers in a dramatic new way," he said. "It's a win -- for SMS marketing and for the Obama campaign."

Recipe for attention
Many believe that the Obama camp's smart use of technology -- emailing, online fundraising, mobile get-out-the-vote -- will give the Democratic candidate an edge in this presidential election.

In fact, even those who didn't sign up for the text are giving the campaign credit for innovation, Mr. Covey agrees.

"This weekend's VP message may not itself give Obama a great edge, but the ability to communicate with supporters through Election Day, via a medium they can't ignore, will serve the campaign well," Mr. Covey said.

"Imagine how this impacts get-out-the-vote efforts on Election Day, for example," he said. "Say voter turnout is low in a key DMA. They could conceivably text-message supporters in the target area code and remind them to call their friends.

"Used creatively, the Obama campaign should still get a fair degree of mileage out of this method."

Can marketers employ this tactic?

"While marketers may not have 2.9 million people waiting with bated breath for their next product announcement, they should consider what text-based value they can offer to consumers to build such a relationship with them," Mr. Covey said.

"For marketers as well, it may not be the reach of an individual text campaign that's worthwhile, but their ability to engage in an ongoing, meaningful dialogue with their audience," he said.

"As they look to Obama's success and consider other SMS campaigns, they have to remain sensitive to the privacy and personal nature associated with SMS.

"A few text messages about a presidential candidate would be a lot different than a hundred text messages with chicken recipes.

"Still, for every marketer there is an audience, and the Obama VP text proves how engaging the SMS medium can be."