Why Obama's Nerds Should Move Into Movie Marketing (Guest Blog)
There has been an avalanche of articles about the lessons marketers can learn from Barack Obama's 2012 presidential campaign.
There has never been a political digital campaign of such scale and scope, and the technology and data mining techniques applied by Obama's team should be of special interest to Hollywood's marketers. There are striking similarities between campaigning for the next box office hit and for the election of the next president of the United States.
Let's begin by observing some similarities:
First Weekend vs. Election Day
There is no other industry where the rules of market economy condense with such brutality and drama into one single moment of truth as film. Years of financing and development rounds, months of production, weeks in the cutting room, and then one opening box-office weekend that determines much of the success or failure for a several hundred million dollar investment.
The whole film industry is watching the first numbers coming in on Friday evening from the east coast, first exit polls analysis are evaluated and predictions for the weekend's box-office results and overall success of a movie are made on Saturday.
The election-day experience is of noteworthy similarity. Years of campaign fundraising, months of campaigning, weeks of unremitting voters mobilization by campaign staff and then one moment of truth -- election day. First, numbers from the east coast come in, exit polls, first predictions, calculations based on electoral college and popular vote numbers, all to measure the success of a campaign investment. The exact same experience.
Swing Audiences vs. Swing States
Over half of movie tickets are bought annually by only 10 percent of the population. Many of these frequent moviegoers decide on their movie choice very early, and some of them decide what they want the moment they see their options at the ticket booth ("Swing Audiences").
Additionally, there are the people who normally do not go to the movie theater at all but when they do, make a significant impact on results ("Sluggish Moviegoers").
All of these audience segments are important for the studios. And every movie marketer must achieve two goals to see success with these groups: to get them off the couch and into a theater seat for opening weekend, and to get that prospective audience to make the right choice at the ticket booth.
The same applies to presidential campaigns: The nominees and their staff must get people to make the correct, favorable choice and then mobilize them to actually leave their homes and fill out the ballot on election day.
Needless to say, there are major differences. While political campaigning is based on programs and hard facts that will directly affect the future life of voters, the only selling proposition in movie marketing is creativity and storytelling: to build a strong emotional connection with potential audiences based only on a narrative, casting, artwork and a trailer.
It is by far the most advanced industry in creating this magic connection with its audience. Data and technology will never change that. But it might help to deliver the magic in a more impactful and efficient way. In this sense there might be a few interesting lessons to draw from this year's Obama campaign:
Use Data to Develop a Holistic View
The biggest change in Obama's '12 campaign was that his CTO, Harper Reed, and his staff integrated the existing databases from prior elections, polling, fundraising activities, field work and much more into one massive database. Only by doing this, was the data analytics team able to develop a holistic view on voting and non-voting America.
By cross-validating the patterns, they were able to draw conclusions from the insights the organization was getting across the United States. The profiles of people signing in to www.barackobama.com with Facebook Connect could be cross-referenced with the profiles of followers on Twitter and pre-registered voters, then further with the fund-raising supporter lists, and door-to-door surveys conducted across the US.
With this holistic view, it was possible to segment American citizens not only by location, ethnicity, household income and political interests but also by two scores that were calculated in the system: a score between 0-100 on how likely these segments were to vote for Obama, and a second identical scale gauging how likely these segments were to actually show up at the polls come election day.