Is President Barack Obama Using Unethical Email Marketing Tactics?

[Note #1: Yes, I realize that this video is longer than a minute.  The “Marketing Minute” is just a segment that’s shorter than our typical 8 to 12 minutes episodes].

[Note #2: In full disclosure, I should tell you that I have been an Obama supporter in the past and continue to be one.  I would, however, be grateful if you would keep political discussion out of the comments, and instead stay focused on your thoughts on his recent email marketing practices (I do not want the discussion to turn into a debate about the pros and cons of an Obama presidency).]

Hello everyone, and welcome to this Marketing Show Minute. Now recently, I’ve got an e-mail from President Barack Obama, and I was personally a little bit offended, and I want to get your take on this. Now, the reason I got an e-mail from Barack Obama was that I have given him money in the past. So full disclosure, in the past, I’ve been an Obama supporter. Now whether you like that or not is really not what the issue here. I want to see what you think of his e-mail marketing practices.

So I received this e-mail on Mother’s Day. The subject was a card for Michelle, presumably Michelle Obama. The e-mail went like this: Clay, the President asked for our help to make this Mother’s Day a special one for the First Lady joined over 300,000 people and signed his Mother’s Day card for her today. Then there’s a link. Thanks, she’s going to love this, Catherine. And then P.S. Check out what the President has to say about the moms in his life. So let’s follow this link and see what this leads us to.

What this leads us to essentially is a squeeze page, okay. So it says Wish Michelle a Happy Mother’s Day, and we can do that by leaving our e-mail address, right. So rather than signing a card with our name, we’re signing the card with our e-mail address, okay, and you know, there is – To Obama’s credit, there’s a good video here where he talks about the mothers in his life and what they mean to him, and that is a good video. I think it’s well done, it’s touching, and it’s got some personal connection there.

So I’m going to go ahead and opt in here. Of course, most people don’t think they’re opt in. Most people think they are simply signing Michelle Obama’s Mother’s Day card. So I’m going to click on “Side in the card.” And what do I get? Well, when I click on this, what I get on the other side is a donation form, and I really don’t like this. I don’t like this because I believe that the spirit of the e-mail I got here was not aligned with the spirit of what I saw when I went to the page.

So this was all about Obama wanting to give something to his wife Michelle on, something very special, Mother’s Day, but my guess – In fact, this isn’t a guess. This has to be true – is that he’s not handing Michelle a list of e-mail addresses, right. This was simply a guise for us to opt in and then to give a donation on the other side. This – Was this ingenuous? What you have here is a situation where the spirit of what was said in the e-mail, in other words, sign Michelle’s Mother’s Day card was not aligned with the spirit of this, which was sign her card by entering your e-mail address, right. He’s not giving Michelle a list of e-mail addresses from us, but sign it with your e-mail address, which is basically a way for him to capture leads if you will, and on the other side of this, give him a donation. So this was really a ploy to get donations.

Now, there’s nothing wrong with presidential candidates getting donations, and there’s nothing wrong with capturing e-mail addresses in collecting leads if you will. There is something wrong with the spirit of what you’re saying not aligning with your actual motives, and in this case, this wasn’t about Michelle. This was about President Obama collecting donations, and again, I’m all for any presidential candidate collecting donations. It’s a free market economy and that’s what we’re about.

So what do you think? Was this ingenuous? Was this maybe not deceitful, but was this an ethical e-mail marketing practice? What’s your take? I’d like to hear what you think in the comments. Thanks so much for watching this Marketing Minute. I’ll talk to you later.

  • Excellent point. I agree with you entirely.

    • Thanks for the comment Ben.  For some reason this is the least-commented upon think I’ve ever written.  Perhaps it’s because folks are in universal agreement?  Not sure.

  • Casey

    Good catch Clay – I was also led to that squeeze page after clicking a display ad at CNN a little while back and noticed the same thing.

    I think it’s out of completely touch…
    But… It would be interesting to see what his conversion rate was

    • Casey

      Completely out of touch* 

  • Jaxi West

    i agree – it is decieving – but then again – it’s not in a way b/c you should have suspected someth ing was up.

    1st:  it came on Obama -Biden ‘stationary’
    2nd: it was signed by the National Political Director “obama for America”  

    so that alone would have made me not surprised once I got to the squeeze page & then it wasn’t signing your name – but your email.

    On the flip side: If this came from Michelle’s chief of staff and it was actually signing your name instead of your email, but then it still lead you to a donation page, But  the top of the donation page read something like” the best mothers day gift you could give to michelle would be supporting her husband’  then I think this would have been a more acceptable email/approach and probably been much more tastefully done and effective.

    I didnt’ donate to Obama or anything but a while ago I subscribed to his list when he first became president – just never removed myself. So i got the same email. Once I got to the squeeze page, I close it out because I realized it was more an opt in page – people know you don’t sign a card with an email address (they really insult the intelligence of the american people in this situation).

    So what they have accomplished here is
    1. sneakily putting you on their list (this is actually a form of spam  because they aren’t telling you you are opting into antying)
    2. really poor judgement of marketing : by then asking you to do more – taking another action -‘please donate’ – without giving anything. This email was all “them centered” So they are taking 2x from you but providing 0 value in return. The video isn’t value in my opinion. It’s just Obama talking more about Obama -his life. There is no  WIIFM in this entire marketing campaign.

    But clearly this wasn’t created by the marketing team – this was obviously created by the one agenda minded political team. 

    Leaves a slimy feeling. 

    Clay, it would be interesting to see the stats: how many closed out once they got to the  squeeze page, and how many actually donated from this campaign, and if the donations were any higher from this campaign than from any others they run. 

    • Jaxi  . . . I agree. I would have loved to have seen the stats as well.

      BTW, I really like this solution:

      On the flip side: If this came from Michelle’s chief of staff and it was actually signing your name instead of your email, but then it still lead you to a donation page, But  the top of the donation page read something like” the best mothers day gift you could give to michelle would be supporting her husband’  then I think this would have been a more acceptable email/approach and probably been much more tastefully done and effective.

      Thanks for sharing,

  • Jaxi West

    clay, my other post is obviously more relative – but this could explain for the lack of comments:

    for some reason i am not getting the email notifications that you have a new show posted. By chance, i was going through my facebook newsfeed and found this tonight. So there might be  glitch in your email system – of people not getting notified to know to even go here. I was always getitng the marketing show emails letting me know you had a new show up. 

    • Thanks for pointing out the note about not getting an email every time I post.  We’re actually  experimenting with posting more often, and don’t want to burn out the list by emailing everyone each and every time we post (which might be up to 5 times per week).  So that’s why you’re not getting email each time 🙂

      • Jaxi West

        okay, so you are definitely doing these more often – which is great ! I will just remember to hit your facebook page more often. But maybe you should send out just one email informing of this – letting them know you don’t want to email every time you create a video, but you plan to do these alot more – and let people know they can always check your fb page to see if a new one is up. 

        Or, maybe do a weekly email that just lists the titles of all the shows you do, so people can see if they want to head to the page to watch any of them -but it also sort of serves as a reminder to them, in case they forget about checking your fb page often. 

        It would be a shame for people to miss out on these – always genius or value in them 🙂

  • katlessin

    Totally out of alignment and yes pretty unethical. This is a great reminder for us that we need to have what stand for “our message spirit”, how we present it “emails/marketing” in total alignment or it just comes off as icky and unethical and that disconnect always turns people and most likely your Avitar off most of all.