Hey, President Obama Wants You to Know How He Won

Wondering how Obama blitzed the fundraising field in the 2012 election? Check out Joshua Green’s article The Science Behind Those Obama Campaign E-Mails in Bloomberg Businessweek. The Obama digital team has released data showing which email subject lines prompted donors to dig deep.


Obama Campaign Email Signup

The overall winner?

  • Hey

No, that’s not a typo. According to Toby Fallsgraff, the campaign’s e-mail director, “Hey” was the most consistent winner over the long-term.

And the colloquial buck doesn’t stop there. On June 26, 2012, the top three subject lines were:

  1. I will be outspent - $2,540,866 donated
  2. Some scary numbers - $1,941,379 donated
  3. If you believe in what we’re doing - $911,806 donated

Note the lurking atmosphere of fear & panic in the first two subject lines.


It gets even more interesting. Through extensive testing, the Obama campaign discovered that hideous design may be the new pretty. Winning tactics included:

  • Giant fonts for links

  • Plain text links (instead of pretty Donate buttons)
  • UGLY YELLOW HIGHLIGHTING for important sections

Campaign analysts were also surprised to discover how tolerant Obama supporters were. No matter how many emails were thrown into the mix, subscribers stayed true.


Obama Campaign Mobile View

Of course, none of these people would be receiving “heys” if they hadn’t subscribed in the first place. And here’s where design can make a difference.

  • Compare the website screenshot of www.barackobama.com captured at the top of this post and the way the same page appears on mobile devices.
  • On the website, 1/2 to 2/3 of the screen is devoted to the sign-up area; on a mobile, any other content is practically obliterated.

Both are designed to get you hooked.


So what can ordinary businesses – those who aren’t battling for the hearts and minds of Ohio – take away from the Obama email campaign?

  1. TEST. And TEST AGAIN. And TEST SOME MORE: Nobody could have predicted “Hey” was going to score a touchdown.
  2. Pretty Isn’t Perfect: Snazzy images and fancy fonts may require email recipients to make an extra click to view content. The fewer pain points, the better the return.
  3. Get the Tone Right: Mild profanity, colloquial introductions – most emails from friends and family strike a conversational tone. Would your email campaign work better if you did too?
  4. Scare ‘Em (But Not Every Day): Insurance companies have been playing off this human emotion for years (What if your house was hit by a hurricane?). Injecting a bit of fear into the subject line can be effective if you provide a solution in the email body.
  5. Create a Clear Path: Clutter can kill sign-ups. Make your sign-up form big and simple.

And, oh, did I mention, testing? Your instincts on what will work may be completely wrong.


Craving more? Here are a couple more articles to get the little grey cells working on a Monday morning:

Prefer to have a copywriter tackle the job?

I’m an email copywriter – talk to me about your challenge. 

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