Wednesday marks the end of the third fundraising quarter of the 2016 primary election, a date that matters to TV talkers, focus-groupers, backstage whisperers—and candidates trying to convince the media and the public at large that momentum is on their side. To try to get supporters to care—and to give—candidates for the presidency are turning to e-mails with carefully orchestrated subject lines.
In 2008, Senator Barack Obama’s presidential campaign sent out e-mails that featured data, strategy, and speeches in their subject lines: “June Numbers,” “Deadline: Midnight tonight,” and “Video: Barack’s speech on Iraq and national security.” He won. In 2012, Obama’s re-election campaign e-mails included subject lines like “SO COOL,” “Michelle time,” and “Warning: This picture is cute.” And—who could forget?—“Hey.”
This change in tack was disquieting to some—the Hairpin ran a blog item titled “Subject Lines of Obama Campaign E-mails That Sound Like a Stalker Wrote Them”—but the e-mails worked. (Isn’t the Internet supposed to be about immediacy and intimacy?) Amelia Showalter, the campaign’s director of digital analytics, said that the campaign did “extensive A-B testing not just on the subject lines and the amount of money we would ask people for, but on the messages themselves and even the formatting.” And the haul of the $690 million that the campaign raised online in 2012, Bloomberg’s Joshua Green reported that November, came through these fundraising e-mails.
It seems that the Obama campaign’s reelection strategy of personalized and snappy subject lines has become conventional wisdom. Never will you be able to see this better than the day a fundraising deadline hits. Wednesday is one such deadline, with third-quarter results due Oct. 15.
Review, from the past two days, the widespread adoption. (Many are from re2016.com, a project of Progress Kitchen, which was founded by a veteran of Obama's analytics team):
There’s the Obama-like, super casual subject line
From: Chris Christie / Subject: Grab a beer?
It is going to be hard to meet and talk with every single person face to face along the campaign trail, so I thought I would see if you wanted to grab a beer and talk about how we move our country forward.
From: Bobby Jindal / Subject: Sorry
I know you have been receiving a lot of emails the last few days. But tonight marks the end of our most important fundraising deadline to date. I wouldn’t ask if it wasn’t important: can you make a donation right now to help us cross the finish line?
From: Rick Santorum / Subject: I'm cheap
I'll be honest with you, Friend. I'm cheap. Fighting against the Washington Establishment will do that to a candidate. From day one of this campaign, I made the decision not to spend precious time with donors, as other candidates have done. . . But there's a downside to running a frugal campaign -- reality! The fact is, we do need some money to pay for things like gasoline to get me through all 99 counties in Iowa, food for volunteers, modest pay for our field staff, and keeping our website up and running so I can reach as many folks as possible.
From: Bill Hyers <firstname.lastname@example.org>/ Subject: Too cheesy
Really? A song contest? But . . . Not only will the Governor sing you a song, but it will be an orginial piece written just for you.
The purposefully youthful all-lowercase
From: Marco Rubio / Subject: the shortest email you’ll read
I need your help ahead of tonight's urgent fundraising deadline. Click here to donate now.
From: Rick Santorum / Subject: now is the time
This week is a big milestone for our campaign. The whole nation will be watching.
From: Mike Huckabee / Subject: **top supporters only**
I know you are committed to my campaign for President. . . If you feel more comfortable, donating by mail please send your address to the address below. Time is of the essence to please make sure to drop it in the mail, before September 30:
Huckabee for President
Attention: Website Team
The appeal to sincerity
From: Bernie Sanders / Subject: I need to ask you directly
Brothers and Sisters -
Today is a very important day for our political revolution.
From: Mike Huckabee / Subject: Urgent Deadline
We are counting on you to respond.
From: Huma Abedin, <email@example.com> / Subject: I believe in Hillary -- do you?
Hillary and I are on the road a lot. When we travel, Hillary relies on me for campaign updates. There's one thing she's going to ask this week: How many people stepped up and gave before the FEC fundraising deadline?
The doomsday bugle
From: Rick Santorum / Subject: We're under the gun
Just like you have in the past, I'm asking if you could chip in a few more dollars, whatever you can afford, to give us a strong showing when we release our fundraising numbers.
From: Rand Paul / Subject: I'm afraid this is bad news
The status quo equals failure. The American people are FED UP because too many Republicans in Washington treat surrender as the first option.
Bringing out the big (and nepotistic) guns
From: President George H.W. Bush / Subject: I'm asking, Friend
15—I'm guessing you have 15 other emails sitting in your inbox today from other Presidential candidates. Here's why you should listen to this one. . . Even though I was Vice President for eight years and had been in the Oval Office many times for important meetings with my friend President Reagan, I still did not appreciate the enormity of the job until I put my hand on that Bible and took the Oath of Office. It's that big.
From: Barbara Bush / Subject: Means the world
I'm not a big emailer like my son, Jeb.
But as you may have heard him say out on the campaign trail, they call me "The Enforcer" in our family. . . Anyway, after my George emailed you just recently, the campaign team asked me to reach out ahead of the End of Quarter Deadline to see if you could help.*
From: President George W. Bush / Subject: I give you my word
The country needs a problem-solver who has a proven conservative record, an optimistic vision for our future, and is ready to lead on day one.
The Obama echo
From: Jeb Bush / Subject: hey
Did you catch my brother's note?