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November 06, 2008


Giff Gfroerer, i2SMS


For those that did not sign up for Obama's SMS campaign, let me fill you in on what he did. Before every debate, both presidential and then for the VP debate, he sent out a SMS. I received mine close to one hour before the start asking me to watch. He asked for your zip code so he could send you messages that were tied to your area throughout the campaign. He sent personal messages from himself and from his wife and staff throughout his campaign. He reminded us a week before the election how important this election was. And on the day of the election he sent a reminder to vote. Here was his message:

"People who love their country can change it! Make sure everyone you know votes for Barak today. For voting info call 866-874-6226."

The thing Barak did with his messages was 'connect' with the 'everyman'. His messages were not pushy or negative, but always upbeat and positive. He didn't beg for your vote or for you to watch him in the debate because he was so great, but to watch the debate and to vote for who you wanted. After he won he sent out yet another message thanking his supporters and saying:

"All of this happened because you gave your time, talent and passion to this campaign. All of this happened because of you. Thanks. Barak"

This was powerful. He was constantly in touch with the people. I noticed that McCain did not have a SMS campaign. Why? Barak's SMS campaign I understand cost less then $250,000.00 This was good stuff. By the way, I am neither a Democrat nor Republican.

Barak built a mobile web site, facebook, etc. He connected with the people.

And interestingly enough, he only won by 5% of the popular vote. This means had 2.5% of the people voted the other way, McCain would have won. I have to believe his mobile efforts from the beginning got him that 2.5%.

It does not matter who you wanted to win. This was a win for the mobile community.



Toni, a couple of quick comments on your post. I think you have the ethos correct but are incorrectly ascribing it to the recent new media phenomenon. Actually, I believe that it goes back to Obama's community organizing routes. New technologies (mobile and social network sites)have not created communities - they have given us new ways to develop and inspire them to action. The Obama campaign was able to use the new technologies to create a new and very different political community - one that the number crunchers will be deciphering for months but comes down to the point that it transcended the 'usual' proximal, or geography-constrained, boundaries of social networks.
And "yes we can" was on virtually all of the collateral the campaign has been producing for months. Why say it when it's everywhere in front of you?
It may be our points of view on essentially the same tactical issue, but the strategy was a lot bigger than "using new technology" - it was using it in new ways. More at

Tomi T Ahonen

Hi Giff and Craig

Good comments, thank you both. I will reply to both individually

Giff - thanks, very enlightening. As we - Alan and I - live abroad, Alan in the UK and me in Hong Kong - we obviously were beyond the reach of the Obama SMS campaigning. I heard little bits of it from time to time, but didn't know how intense it was along the way. I know the SMS part broke into the mainstream when Obama's campaign announced they would reveal the VP pick via SMS rather than press conference - and we blogged about it then. But this what you describe gives a lot more context, and helps explain how intelligently and "maturely" the method was used to support his campaign. Thank you very much. This helps a lot. I'm sure both Alan and I will be referring to this use of SMS (and other new technologies) in this campaign for years to come.

Craig - great comment, and we really don't have much of a disagreement. I am sorry that in my post I probably did not make it clear enough, that I do not think it was technology which won the race for Obama - although am 100% certain in the tightest races - Indiana and North Carolina - the incremental elements of competitive advantage did help push Obama over the top in those states. With the landslide win in the Electoral College votes, he would have been comfortably ahead even if he lost both of those states, obviously.

To be clear, in my view, there were four major reasons why Obama won - first, there was already a pending anti-Republican feeling in the country (anti-Bush, anti-War, anti-corruption, anti-scandals) etc. Bush's approval ratings were the lowest ever measured for a President, below those of Nixon when he resigned. Obama's campaign successfully turned that opportunity into his Change message.

Second was Obama's fund-raising. Never before has the Democratic presidential candidate had more money to spend than the Republican. As we saw in the final months, Obama's campaign could run ads in more markets than McCain, and where both ran, Obama would typically outspend McCain 2:1, at times as much as 4:1 and more.

Third was a lopsided campaign. McCain's campaign was erratic, sporadic, unguided, non-strategic. It was the least-well run campaign in recent history. Against that was Obama's campaign a supremely disciplined, focused and strategic campaign. McCain's campaign was constantly confused, and had Obama been a bit more of a conventional politician, he could have jumped on McCain every week on his regular flip-flops on just about every issue. Obama did not need to to that, as he was moving ahead in the polls, and the nightly comedians were ensuring that McCain's campaign stubles were given much exposure.

Finally - the nail that sealed the deal - was the selection of Sarah Palin. First, the argument that "Obama was not ready" had a lot of traction - especially as Clinton had pounded this message for a year, and McCain was particularly strong in being fully competent and tested - far more so than Hillary Clinton. The inexperience argument was a strong one, that McCain threw away with the Palin choice.

He did pick a woman, but in Palin he received the least acceptable female candidate of any that were in the running from both sides at the VP discussions and countless polls showed that most women rejected her as a woman - because her political views were so strongly against all major women's issues. This season women were particularly energized because of Hillary, and had McCain picked someone like Carly Fiorina or one of the more familiar (and tested0 Republican Governors, or perhaps Condoliza Rice - McCain would have had the woman that many more women voters would have accepted. They rejected Palin. Women went for Obama at a huge margin. The only women that came for Palin were strongly Republican in their views to begin with, evangelicals etc.

And Palin's inexperience and her "maverick" nature became blatantly obvious in her statements of foreign policy because she can see Russia, of rejecting the money for the bridge to nowhere, when she kept the money allocated by Congress but didn't build the bridge and used the money in her own ways, the 150,000 dollar cloting binge (which now Newsweek says is tens of thousands of dollars bigger spending than was previously reported), not being able to name newspapers she reads, etc. McCain had met Palin twice before selecting her. The campaign further ruined its only chance to "make a first impression" with Palin, her media exposure was a disaster and blaming the media only made matters worse for Palin, (such as McCain skipping Letterman, only to find Letterman enjoying vicious McCain and Palin jokes - "I can't trust this guy" nightly until McCain returned and apologized. How incompetent could a campaign - that was underfunded and NEEDED media good will to be on the air, be to pick a fight with the media...)

Please don't misunderstand me. I totally admit that Palin was a gamble and that for the party faitful, it did work. She energized the base of the Republicans. But the base of Republicans would never have voted for "the most liberal" of the Democratic senators. The total Republican party represents only 35% of the electorate. McCain could not win by carrying his base. He could have energized his base with a more conventional pick - a Romney, a Huckabee - or any of the other women that were on his short list - all of whom were already vetted in the media and knew how to talk intelligently to a journalist. By the last two weeks of the campaign dozens of major Republicans started deserting the sinking ship - usually siting Palin as one of the reasons why - perhaps most devastatingly Colin Powel, a far bigger war hero than McCain himself and one with even more impeccable foreign policy credentials than those of McCain. Palin was a major reason for sinking the McCain ship.

And finally the fifth reason - the "cratering" of the economy in September. That McCain had gone on record before saying that the economy was not his strong suit - and worse, going on record that he might have to pick a VP candidate to help fill this weakness (see Palin above) - and also most stupidly, on the Monday morning of the major collapses on Wall Street he said the fundamentals of economy were still sound. The economy was the last straw, and had the outside uncontrollable world incident been a terrorist attack or sudden escallation of the Iraq war - then McCain would suddenly have had a boost in his campaign - and Obama probably been severely hurt, but as the event this time was the US economy - this did McCain in for good. Before the economic crisis, McCain was within 2-3% of Obama in the opinion polls. After it the polls ran to 7%-12% against McCain and he never recovered.

There were five giant reasons any one which could have sunk the McCain campaign. That is why what was a 1% election in 2000 and 2004, was now a 6% election (possibly 7% by the time all votes are in).

Yes, there is also the cult around Obama. Yes, Obama appealed to young voters, who came out more than before, but still not in anywhere near massive numbers that were expected.

Now, about the technology - I did not mean that technology was what won it for Obama. It was a means to an end, not an end in itself. But like you wrote, the Obama campaign was built on Obama's roots and what he knew best, community organizing. So yes, we totally agree. And yes, that could be done the old-fashioned way, with name-tags and telephone calls on the fixed landline, and perhaps emails today; or the new tech way, with SMS text messages, mobile phones, social networking etc. But the principles were the same, building a community to support his campaign (ie our ethos here at our blog, Communities Dominate).

But - by using newest - and most efficient - technologies the Obama campaign had what the military calls a "force multiplier" - in simple terms, remember the time before email. To send many letters, you had to write one, print many, sign the all, stuff each in an envelope, seal all, affix stamps, carry to mailbox, etc. But sending the same communication by email - you compose the same email, and just pick the mailing list and click [SEND] - it is a force multiplier. The same work goes much farther. Electronic communication methods were credited by the Pentagon as the single biggest reason for the rapid victory in the first Gulf War. The American (and coalition) military was fully connected in real time, from helicopters to tanks to AWACS radar control airplanes - while the Iraq army relied on voice communications of short distance and relaying messages.

The Obama campaign got far more effiency out of its campaign by using cutting edge technologies.

But I do think we are mostly in agreement..

About the Yes We Can signs and the slogan in his speeches. I agree with that. But it was revealed early, that Obama did not particularly like it (the slogan) and relucantly accepted to use it. By the time he did his mass speech in Berlin - where Germans were chanting Yes We Can - he did not take the bait. Note there were no Yes We Can lawn signs in Europe..

When he had the biggest audience ever for a Convention Acceptance Speech - he again had an euphoric audience who had song with Will I Am - the refrain Yes We Can - but Obama did not use the phrase in his speech. He distinctly avoided it for approximately 6 months.

But Obama did bring it back now in his Victory Speech in Chicago. Even here, he did not want the audience to chant it - he rushed to the next sentence, before the audience could echo the Yes We Can, he used it more just as "punctuation" to emphasize the 106 old lady's story. He "gave" the audience the phrase one more time - but only very gently and in a subtle way.

I do believe he thinks it is too "cheap" and simplistic - and I expect he won't be using it again - as he now transitions from being a presidential candidate (and partisan) to being the President (and national). Yes We Can was a political campaign slogan... Yet he will be remembered for it obviously.

I personally did see a strong similarity with him asking his supporters to chant "Yes We Can" in response to his early speeches, as being a bit like the Pastor in a church asking the congregation to give him an "Amen" after a statement, then giving another statement, and the congregation gives another Amen. If Obama did this a lot, it might well seem like he is "pretending" to be a religious leader as well, too much of that "chosen one" with cult-like followers, rather than being a serious candidate.

As he was so young, and black, and untested - I am sure he was even more sensitive to appearing professional at all stages. Even the victory speech, he was so serious, not letting his true happiness shine through - that broad winning smile with all the teeth showing - until he stepped off the stage with his wife, it showed just very briefly. This man is very controlled in how he lets himself be seen. To always project a calculated and very serious image.

(I know a lot about that, I am lucky to have a "baby face" and into my 30's I was thought of being in my teens and asked for identification in bars, etc - and then trying to be a professional IT guy, I would use every trick in the book to appear more serious and respectable - including always wearing suits and ties, and even getting a pair of eye glasses with window pane glass, to appear more smart and older. Today aged 48 I'm happy I don't look 68 and my eye sight now does require real glasses ha-ha)

Thank you both for writing

Tomi Ahonen :-)

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    Tomi Ahonen is a bestselling author whose twelve books on mobile have already been referenced in over 100 books by his peers. Rated the most influential expert in mobile by Forbes in December 2011, Tomi speaks regularly at conferences doing about 20 public speakerships annually. With over 250 public speaking engagements, Tomi been seen by a cumulative audience of over 100,000 people on all six inhabited continents. The former Nokia executive has run a consulting practise on digital convergence, interactive media, engagement marketing, high tech and next generation mobile. Tomi is currently based out of Hong Kong but supports Fortune 500 sized companies across the globe. His reference client list includes Axiata, Bank of America, BBC, BNP Paribas, China Mobile, Emap, Ericsson, Google, Hewlett-Packard, HSBC, IBM, Intel, LG, MTS, Nokia, NTT DoCoMo, Ogilvy, Orange, RIM, Sanomamedia, Telenor, TeliaSonera, Three, Tigo, Vodafone, etc. To see his full bio and his books, visit Tomi Ahonen lectures at Oxford University's short courses on next generation mobile and digital convergence. Follow him on Twitter as @tomiahonen. Tomi also has a Facebook and Linked In page under his own name. He is available for consulting, speaking engagements and as expert witness, please write to tomi (at) tomiahonen (dot) com

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