What You Can Learn From Obama’s Video Email Marketing Mistakes

One thing that both online video marketing and politics have in common is that people are more apt to criticize small mistakes than praise what is working. Last week, the Obama campaign sent out an e-mail blast unveiling a new anti-Romney docu-drama video tied with the announcement of their new website, RomneyEconomics.com. In 3 different places on the e-mail, there’s either a direct or implied call-to-action to watch their video. Yet when you click on either of the email’s text links or the play button, it doesn’t actually lead to a page with any video. Instead it leads to a sign-up page to “Join the Truth Team.”

Here’s a screenshot of the email:


Here is where those same links point to: a sign-up page on the Romneynomics.com site with no display or mention of the promised video. There’s not even a mention that filling out the form will lead to a page where the video can finally be watched.

Only after taking multiple, unannounced steps can the user actually watch the video promised to them. What the Obama campaign doesn’t seem to consider is that many will see these extra steps as unnecessary, and even disrespectful. Instead of giving its subscribers a captivating video experience, the campaign seems to take its subscribers for granted.

It doesn’t speak well for any political team to name their high-profile campaign “Get The Truth” without also being truthful about the call-to-actions in a simple e-mail campaign. In our increasingly cynical age around politics and political candidates, all it takes is one notable mistake to undo a lot of the good will campaigns strive to create.

Team Obama has already proven that they are experts with social media, but they must be careful to not take their audience for granted with video marketing mistakes like these. Even the most powerful video content with the most captivating presentation is at the mercy of the user experience. People today expect more from an online video experience than they did in the last presidential election. They have a right to expect campaigns to design their videos not just for slickness, but for simplicity, convenience, relevance and especially truthfulness.

To help, I put together 5 video marketing tips below specifically for political campaigns.  You will notice a lot of the themes and best practices listed are also very relevant to the e-commerce industry as well.  A common thread that both consumers and voters share is the increasing need for transparency in marketing.

5 Usability Video Marketing Tips for Political Campaigns

Tip #1 – Be entirely truthful from the start

The sin of omission is a traditional ploy in marketing that worked well in earlier times, but fails today in our social age where consumers expect more transparency. If you absolutely need to make people go through several steps to get to what has been promised to them, explain up front and in very simple language what those steps are and why they’re needed.

Tip #2 – Cut down the extra steps (or remove them entirely)

Voters aren’t dumb about online video. They know they can already watch the same political video on YouTube or elsewhere, where it is just one click away. I am not saying political campaigns need to mimic the YouTube experience, but they must learn to appreciate what people expect when they click an invitation. Here are some straightforward ways of testing out different experiences:

  • Don’t require a sign-up for anything. Have the video play directly on the landing page, and include a non-intrusive options to sign up for announcements, share the video, and check out more videos on your site. (It is considered socially acceptable to do a drop-over like seen on the UpWorthy site, which makes the offer appear like a reward.)
  • Let people watch the video inside the email. A significantly increasing percentage of audiences are using email clients and devices that utilize HTML5 video, which lets subscribers watch video directly in the email without having to click to go elsewhere.

(Editor’s note: Video in email solutions like Liveclicker’s Video Email Express allow marketers to detect if full video in email is available.  The solution will serve up the correct version of the video (full video in email, an animated .GIF/.PNG or just a static image of the player) depending on the email client being used by the subscriber.)

  • Do A/B Split Tests. A/B testing, also referred to as multivariable testing, allows you to run 2 or more versions of the same campaign testing different variables like video content, design, offer, etc. By doing some simple A/B testing, not only can you find out which variables get the best results, but you can make tweaks to future campaigns with what you learn. A few of the better known companies that specialize in this type of email split testing include email service providers like MailChimp and Constant Contact, as well as vendors specifically designed for video content like Video Email Express.

Tip #3 – Put out a short version and a long version

With an ever-increasing amount of video content to choose from, it’s especially crucial be considerate of people’s time. The Obama campaign was smart to do a short 2 minute version along with the full 6 minute version of their video.  If this is something you would like to try, it is a best practice to include an announcement about the other version of video and a clickable link to it in the video itself. YouTube annotations are a perfect way of doing this, but when hosting and distributing video on other platforms (which is strongly recommended), you can include the mention in your video’s outro, the description field, and/or any available ad space.


Tip #4 – Create a user community of fellow video enthusiasts around your video

People respond well to videos of other people like them who have something compelling to say around a shared experience. Consider setting up a YouTube channel just for users who want to share their own videos that relate to yours. There are tons of people out there that like to speak their mind and share their experiences. These types of testimonials and real world experiences can give your campaign a more genuine feel, and at the same time spread your message to new audiences that you would have not reached otherwise.

Tip #5 – Announce live video chats in your email

Email is the most acceptable way to remind people of live video chat events. It can create a sense of much needed excitement and urgency to not miss a special opportunity. One such example is Senator Chuck Grassley, a political conservative who appears socially progressive when it comes to doing live chat events. Email subscribers receive immediate notices every week to watch Chuck live on VYou where he answers both pre-submitted and live questions through the chat feed. Google+ Hangouts Air and Spreecast are two other platforms that can work the same way by providing a what to do a live video chats in a group setting.


It’s an exciting time for politicians to engage with their followers through shared online video experiences. They should be forewarned that voters have higher expectations with online video than previous elections – be it expecting interesting and relevant content, social media communication, or a user-friendly experience – and their expectations are only going to increase.