The Science Behind Those Obama Campaign E-Mails

As a subscriber to the Obama campaign emails and a rhetorician, I find this immensely fascinating.

The appeals were the product of rigorous experimentation by a large team of analysts. “We did extensive A-B testing not just on the subject lines and the amount of money we would ask people for,” says Amelia Showalter, director of digital analytics, “but on the messages themselves and even the formatting.” The campaign would test multiple drafts and subject lines—often as many as 18 variations—before picking a winner to blast out to tens of millions of subscribers. “When we saw something that really moved the dial, we would adopt it,” says Toby Fallsgraff, the campaign’s e-mail director, who oversaw a staff of 20 writers.

The Science Behind Those Obama Campaign E-Mails


Shots fired

I started this blog for many reasons. The main one was to document important events in my life as something of an online journal. But I also wanted a forum to highlight things that are important to me as a professional: rhetoric and technology (especially as the two intersect in terms of tech-mediated communication).

Today is one of those days when I think it’s important to document an event that’s happening that may (read should) have long-term ramifications.

Gabrielle Gifford, a U.S. Representative from Arizona, was shot at a political meet & greet along with 6 others. First reports said she had died, but she did, in fact, survive.

We don’t know why she was shot, but already there is discussion about the heated political rhetoric of late that uses gun imagery and language, such as Sarah Palin’s common refrain, “Don’t retreat, reload.”

In fact, Palin’s own PAC had this image up on their website today, but was soon removed.

Here’s the thing: it may not be fair to blame Palin and other Tea Party / right-wing extremists for this shooting. But words do matter. Rhetoric does have far-reaching implications. There is a responsibility for inciting violence in this way, and we need to consider how all of us should be accountable. I don’t think you can judge an action independently of the words behind it.

Communicating in crisis

There’s really nothing to say at this point about what’s happening in the Gulf Coast. The images capture it all.

I’m always interested in how companies communicate in a crisis. While initially BP seemed to take ownership of the spill and the continued leakage and used words like “transparent” and “responsible,” they also shifted blame to the oil rig operators themselves, some of whom died. Not the best tactic and probably a fundamental reason that the CEO didn’t do many interviews after this one on May 3.

British Tony was a flop, and it appears that he was soon replaced by a new spokesperson, an American, COO Doug Suttles. In fact, on the Today Show just yesterday, Matt Lauer brought up a quote by Hayward in which he describes the environmental impact to be “very, very modest” and asks Suttles if he stands by Hayward’s depiction. Suttles, while clearly wanting to defend Hayward, is forced to admit that the damage is, and will be, significant.

The problem really comes down to what agencies call “acceptable risks.” At some point, it was decided that an explosion and spill such as this could very well happen but that there was either a low probability for occurrence or that the costs would be relatively insignificant (compared to the benefit of such operation) . Whatever calculations were made for this scenario, there was a breakdown in the communication or simply a blatant disregard to living things. Choose one or both, and it’s still a failure.

Let’s face it, no matter what the investigation finds, the recovery to an already devastated community still reeling from Hurricane Katrina will take decades. Good PR and rhetoric cannot overcome that.