Text-messaging the '04 election

Rock the Vote is launching a mobile campaign aimed at getting voters 18-30 engaged and involved in this fall's election. As Wired reports, it will

... offer information on candidates' stances on issues. Users also could request voter-registration forms. And the service will offer a candidate matchmaker quick quiz, which asks users for their opinions on major issues and tells them the candidate most in tune with them. Users also would be able to query their phone to find their polling place on Election Day. And ... [receive] get-out-the-vote pleas recorded by rock stars.

How does this mesh with Joe Trippi's observation to the NYT that

...cellphone text messaging didn’t work the way we had hoped. We really went after that hard. It went, but just didn’t really do anything ... ?

Maybe Rock the Vote has focused on the two elements essential to the success of an SMS campaign: immediacy and personal relevance. Companies and marketers in Europe, India, Malaysia and Japan have discovered that sales can be increased if SMS messages are properly targeted and provide value to the consumer.

In England, Orange is launching a promotion giving customers who text a company number two-for-one movie tickets. Some retail chains in Japan are experimenting with texting coupons to registered customers - as they walk past individual stores. In Canada, beer companies had consumers sign up to receive exclusive invitations to parties and events.

MTV, Motorola and Rock the Vote seem to recognize that young voters will need an active exchange of information, targeted to their needs but offering tangible benefits. Who wouldn't want a voice mail from, say, Bono, to keep on their mobile phone?

SMS isn't really an organizing tool - yet. But it could provide that extra push for young voters to maintain an interest in the election and actually turn out in November.

As for Trippi's plans - he had unnamed but glorious ambitions, but they were shortcircuited by reality:

... Trippi’s plans for SMS extend beyond just the surface and may have an impact on the election in ways unseen. Though he is unable to discuss the details, he [told imediaconnection last August], “We intend to use text messaging strategically in key caucus states.”

Here's a recent Poynter tid-bit on SMS use in elections around the world.

BTW - the Rock the Vote campaign's privacy statement is pretty lame.

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