Mind the app: Romney fights back in the mobile war of the 2012 campaign

Virginia Heffernan
Yahoo! News

Mitt Romney’s VP app is not a VP app anymore. The Apple store issued an update today that strips the “VP” part and transforms the meager doohickey to something more robust: a networked tool aimed at getting Romney supporters to rise up, communicate, donate and vote.

I initially found Romney’s VP (as the app was called) uninspired—almost dispiriting. I said as much in a review. It seemed to have been tossed off just to glean email addresses, greedily asking for more data than it supplied. It seemed like sloppy design, sloppy programming, sloppy marketing.

The Obama campaign app, by contrast, was full of nice turns of phrase, dense fuctionality and fun navigation. KO by Obama, I thought, in the app bout.

Soon, however, I noticed something in my inbox. Email. Email from Ann Romney. Email from John McCain. Email from Paul Ryan.

The Romney campaign, having scored my address, had put me in its system, and was hammering me with elegant PR. Email from impressive names, styled as real letters, seemingly just for me. I was not getting anything like that from the Obama campaign. Slowly but surely I was being made to feel like one of Romney’s People.

The ruthless data-mining done by the first iteration of the Romney app had paid off.

"It did everything we wanted," Zac Moffat, the digital wunderkind of the Romney campaign, told Buzzfeed. According to Buzzfeed, the first 24 hours of the app saw more than 200,000 downloads, along with a surge of Facebook followers for Romney.

Now the app can be adapted and used to mobilize supporters, who can use it to swap information and pictures and lore and create an ongoing virtual pep rally. The candidate now seems, by virtue of the emails and push notifications that have kept Romney front and center on their mobile devices, to be intimately theirs.

If the digital campaign really is like a boxing match, in this round, the Romney team cleverly floated its app like a butterfly only, on the day of Romney’s acceptance speech in Tampa, to sting like a bee.