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It's the Romney Veepstakes, Pushed Straight to Your Phone

BY Sarah Lai Stirland | Tuesday, July 31 2012

Mitt Romney's presidential campaign upgraded the veepstakes notification process this election cycle with the release of a new smartphone app that promises to break the news to supporters first with a push notification to their phones.

Romney's campaign notified supporters about the new app early Tuesday morning both through email and text message. In addition to having a placeholder for the announcement, the app provides subscribers with the Romney campaign's Twitter feed. Supporters can retweet the Romney campaign's Tweets with a simple finger-tap, at which point the app rather hilariously whistles to signify that the retweet went through. There's also a "donate" button that takes you to the donation form on the Romney campaign's web site. Supporters who want to buy "limited edition merchandise," and who want a Romney campaign bumper sticker with the VP pick on it, are asked for their mailing addresses. Users are asked to share the app with their friends through Twitter, Facebook and email after downloading the app.

"We see this as another entry point to get involved in the campaign," said Zac Moffatt, the Romney campaign's digital director. "We’re seeing exponential growth on our Facebook and Twitter pages. This is just an extension of that."

Vice-presidential picks have become major marketing events for presidential campaigns — and Barack Obama's 2008 campaign received a lot of attention when it decided to notify supporters of then-candidate Obama's pick through a text message.

Though Obama's campaign was lauded for its marketing savvy at the time, it also got egg in its face when CNN broke the news first, and when a later analysis found that up to half of the people who signed up for the message never received it, or received it hours after it was sent.

"It was a great PR tool, but not a great delivery tool," Moffatt said in an interview. "So we looked at that challenge, and said: 'OK, what would be a delivery system that could withstand millions of people on it, and push notifications seemed like an appropriate mechanism ... it seemed like the most appropriate way of cutting through the clutter."

Moffatt wouldn't say exactly how long the app took to create, merely saying that it was a "quick turnaround," and it was built in-house. He emphasizes that SMS is still a vital campaign tool because of its ubiquity, but it doesn't scale well for instant notifications that are meant to be sent out to millions of people simultaneously.

In addition to giving the campaign more direct control over the notification process and building another link to supporters through their smartphones, the process is cheaper than text messaging for both the campaign and users because data over the Internet is cheaper to use, Moffatt noted.

Almost half of U.S. adults own a smartphone, according to a survey conducted in February by the Pew Internet & American Life project, up from 35 percent from May 2011.

"We are going to have other options for people, but we made a determination in this campaign that the single first point of contact from the campaign will be mobile push technology," Moffatt said, noting that the campaign would rather work with reliable technology than send text messages that may or may not arrive on time to notify supporters of the Romney campaign's VP pick.

This is the Romney campaign's second mobile app. Earlier this year, the campaign released a social photo sharing app called "With Mitt" designed to encourage supporters to frame their photos at campaign events with promotional campaign imagery, and to share those photos with their friends. Since its release, the app has been downloaded 70,000 times, Moffatt said.

"Everyone’s got an opinion about how mobile should be leveraged," he said. "Our thought with “With Mitt” was that we wanted a light, easy-to-use entry point for people to take photos, and to share them."

Like many campaigns exploring how to reach voters this election cycle, the Romney campaign has been actively exploring mobile technologies. In June, it launched a Facebook mobile advertising campaign. It also started advertising through Apple's iAd service, which delivers ads to iPhones, iPads and iTouches.