Thursday in San Jose
Much has been made about the $91 million Meg Whitman has spent on her gubernatorial campaign. As expected, the largest portion of the money has gone to those slick, expensive television campaign ads. They have served her well, first in introducing her to Californians, and second in terms of branding her candidacy.
But beyond the use of her funds for commercials, Whitman has treated her campaign like an investment. To that end, she has purchased the latest technological tools available to assist her campaign effort--purchases that may prove invaluable by November 2nd.
Whitman has demonstrated that there is still room for campaign mailers in this high tech era of smart phones and social media. By developing sophisticated data bases, her campaign has sent highly targeted mailers to narrow groups. For example, someone who is a registered independent, a member of the Sierra Club, and a parent might receive a mailer on the value of Whitman protecting the environment for the next generation. On the other hand, someone who is a Democrat, a union member, and a member of AARP might get a mailer on the importance of Whitman promoting job creation. These mailers are invaluable not only because of their targeted nature, but because they speak to voters about their issues.
The Whitman campaign has also matched the Democrats with a well-designed website. Until this year, Democrats had been much more successful at co-opting voters through online efforts. But the Whitman team has neutralized that asset and taken it as one of their own, thereby opening up possibilities to connect with young, tech-savy voters.
Jerry Brown may have more Facebook friends than Meg Whitman, but Whitman has now claimed that turf as well. Perhaps the most intimate Whitman innovation has been the personalization of the "robo" calls, those often annoying telephone calls we receive with the approach of election day. These calls have become commonplace, but the Whitman campaign has used software that begins with an acknowledgement of the individual's name at the beginning of the call. I hung up on dozens of these calls last month, but I stayed around when Whitman's call began with "Hello, Larry. This is Meg Whitman, and I'm calling..." Well, you get it. Suddenly, the most impersonal messaging cut through to me.
Often we look at campaigns for their largesse--the blockbuster commercials, the killer endorsements, or the events with massive audiences. Those tools remain important in 2010. But with a checkbook pocket the size of the Grand Canyon, the Whitman campaign has been able to use resources in new innovative ways. Whether Jerry Brown's comparably low tech and underfunded campaign is a match for this onslaught remains to be seen. Meg Whitman may not win in November, but it won't be because people don't know who she is.