It was DM what won it

In his acceptance speech in the early hours of Wednesday morning, President Obama offered hope to anyone – “black or white or Hispanic or Asian or Native American or young or old or rich or poor, abled, disabled, gay or straight” – that they can succeed if “willing to try”.

Russell Parsons

This could also have been a list of groups individually targeted by the “Campaign to Re-elect the President”.

If anything won the President another four years in the Oval Office then it was the ability of his team to get people out to vote.

In the face of an unemployment rate hovering around the psychologically important 8 per cent mark, anaemic economic growth, a hostile Congress and a well funded opponent, Obama’s chances should have been slim to none.

But he won and with a margin of victory that almost matched his success four years ago. This really was a triumph of efficient marketing, a triumph of effective, data-driven targeting.

From a marketing perspective, the campaign started as classically as any new product launch. Positioning. Not positioning the President, however, but positioning his opponent. TV ad after ad attempted to paint Mitt Romney as an out of touch rich man who had made his fortune in a private equity company that made thousands unemployed.

This worked to the first presidential debate in Denver last month when Romney’s performance established him at best as a viable alternative at worst, not the ogre that Obama campaign had sought to paint him.

It was, however, not enough. Obama’s success was in corralling groups of voters- the “Rainbow coalition” as some have described it – to vote. The way his campaign team achieved this was through data.

There is a particularly rich stream of data available to political campaign teams. Opinion poll responses, voter registration information, previous allegiances all add up to provide a campaign with a strong sense of what matters to a voter. It also, of course, provides them with the perhaps the most crucial piece of information – where they live.

Real time bidding on a run of display ads pinpointing the issues that mattered to any particular group of voters was used by the Obama camp, mining the available data, as was other DM using social media, mobile and mail.

This was a persistent and ultimately successful tactic that collected votes, one by one, under the radar and certainty far away from the TV campaigns. Data-driven, targeted marketing, DM, was as responsible for winning this election as any TV attack ad.

Latest from Marketing Week

Marketoonist on GDPR

The Marketoonist

Tom Fishburne is founder of Marketoon Studios. Follow his work at or on Twitter @tomfishburne See more of the Marketoonist here


Access Marketing Week’s wealth of insight, analysis and inspiration that will help you develop as a marketer and leader.

Register and receive the best content from the only title 100% dedicated to serving marketers' needs.

We’ll ask you just a few questions about what you do and where you work, so we can make Marketing Week more relevant to you.

Register now


Our award winning editorial team and columnists will ask the biggest questions about the biggest issues on everything from strategy through to execution to help you navigate the fast moving modern marketing landscape.


From the opportunities and challenges of emerging technology to the need for greater effectiveness, from the challenge of measurement to building a marketing team fit for the future, we will be your guide.


Information, inspiration and advice from the marketing world and beyond that will help you develop as a marketer and as a leader.

Dedicated to developing your skills and helping you achieve marketing excellence. Find guidance on leadership, professional development and the latest industry jobs.

Having problems?

Contact us on +44 (0)20 7292 3711 or email

If you are looking for our Jobs site, please click here