Campaigns See Dollar Signs In AOL Email Addresses
The political world is constantly trying to find cool, new ways to use social media platforms like Snapchat, Facebook and Instagram, but here’s a little secret: The thing that is most valuable to the candidates is still your email address, and most valuable of all is an AOL.com email address.
The reason is simple: money. Email generates the vast majority of campaign fundraising, and AOL addresses produce more money than Gmail addresses.
A January study by digital marketing firm Fluent concluded that only 4% of subscribers to political email lists had AOL.com email addresses, while 48% of subscribers had Gmail accounts. But those AOL users accounted for 22% of total donations during the study period — November and December 2015 — with an average donation of $159. Gmail users accounted for only 13% of donations with an average gift of $31.
If you think about it, it makes sense. Older people are more likely to be generous campaign donors and more likely to have a 20-year-old email account. “80% of all donations from email are coming from people 50 or older,” said Jordan Cohen, chief marketing officer at Fluent.
Vincent Harris, CEO of Harris Media and chief digital strategist for the recently shuttered presidential campaign of Sen. Rand Paul, said he has seen this effect repeatedly. “The average donors online to Republicans are normally 55-plus. And what email address does my mom still use to this day? She uses an AOL address.”
Harris said he tells the millennial digital whizzes on his staff, “who you are talking to online, who you are trying to get money from is your grandma … those are the folks who for Republican causes certainly are most likely to give.”
Productive email lists are gold for campaigns because email is still the most powerful way of mobilizing people to political action whether it is donating money or writing a letter or calling their congressman. “Email is really extremely important because it is what I call ‘in-reach’ — you are not reaching out to people who are new, you are reaching in to your supporters to tell them ‘We need you to do something for the campaign,’ ” said Peter Pasi, vice president of political sales at Collective, a multiscreen advertising company.
Harris said that in a recent campaign his firm did for opponents of the Iran nuclear deal, “We were trying to generate calls to members of Congress.” The group spent money on social media and other advertising, but “it was emails that drove the most calls. Email is still king for germinating action.”
“If you look at the $3 million we raised for Sen. Ted Cruz’s Senate race in 2012, 70% came from email,” Harris said.
Cohen at Fluent notes that email also has a tremendous rate of return. “It’s the most powerful digital channel for driving micro-donations,” he said. Cohen said President Obama built his campaign email list to about 40 million people, and 4.5 million of those people actually donated. “That’s a huge response rate; you don’t see that from any other platform.”
And email puts the sender in control of the relationship. “Once they have your email, they can contact you every time they want as opposed to when they get you intrigued enough to click on something,” said Michael Cornfield, associate professor of political management at George Washington University.
But Pasi cautions that email is not the only channel candidates need to use to reach voters. “If only the people who know about you and get email from you voted, you would not win.” Campaigns still need to use television and Facebook ads and other broad-reach advertising to get people interested enough to sign up for the email. “People can’t get to a place where they give you their email until they have heard of you,” he said.
And what about millennials, who can be maddeningly slow to respond to emails but text constantly? That is still a challenge for politics. “There are significant problems with unsolicited text,” said Keith Sibson, vice president of a Post Up, an email services company. “It’s not a place to do broadcast.” People tend to see text as a more personal channel, and nobody “really wants to be marketed to through text messages.”