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GOP Email Throwdown: Content Varies as Much as the Candidates

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by: Loren McDonald (@LorenMcDonald)
05 March 2012

The four remaining Republican presidential candidates—Newt Gingrich, Ron Paul, Rick Santorum and Mitt Romney—are ramping up their email strategies as the race gets tighter and more delegates and money are at stake.

In this blog post, I'll turn my attention to the content of the candidates' email messages. In previous posts, I've examined their opt-in practices and inbox presence through sender name and subject lines. (See all posts in the “GOP Throwdown” series.)

When it comes to content, the candidates are as varied in their email approaches as they are in their campaign platforms and speaking style:

  • Most of Paul's email messages read like long-form sales letters.
  • Santorum's messages are like personal notes or breaking-news stories.
  • Romney's campaign approach resembles classic email marketing more so than the other candidates, both in message length, use of images and video and even a promotional offer or two.

There's plenty of material here, so my content analysis will follow the lines of a typical email message, from the preheader text through the content.

1. Preheader text/navigation: Promotional emails often include at least one line of preheader text as the first line of copy, such as linking to a Web version or restating the primary offer or call to action.

None of the current GOP candidates uses preheader text, although former candidate Jon Huntsman had a link to the Web version at the top of his emails.

Also, no candidate uses navigation links to direct subscribers to different areas of their websites.

2. First name personalization: In the opt-in process, Paul and Santorum collect the subscriber's name, though it was optional. Thus, their emails are the only ones that use personalization in the salutation and occasionally at various points through the campaign message.

Santorum emails are now using "Team Santorum" when they don’t have a subscriber’s first name, but previously that missing data field resulted in "NULL" appearing instead of the first name. The Paul campaign uses first name if provided or “Liberty Activist” if not. Romney uses “Friend,” while Gingrich emails have used "Dear Friend and Supporter."

3. Design/layout: All the campaigns use a relatively simple design that most often looks like letterhead, with the campaign logo at the top and a closing often accompanied by a facsimile of the sender's signature.

  • Paul emails have the most basic design of the four campaigns. They look like Word documents transferred to email, with large banners to break up large blocks of type.
  • Santorum emails have become more professional-looking in recent weeks but retain the same basic letter design, but with the gray background screen in early messages evolving to an easier-to-read light blue screen. The campaign uses an OK HTML wrapper template, but the content within the body is almost always simple text with a few hyperlinks.
  • Romney emails are clean and simply designed and have the most variety. Some messages look like letters, while others resemble commercial promotions, often with a single large image and short copy blocks. Overall, Romney emails have the most consistent professional and polished look and feel.
  • Gingrich emails most closely resemble Ron Paul’s in the use of text-heavy copy blocks, with a small image of Gingrich and a prominent red donation button to break up copy blocks. But this is a small sample, having only received four emails from the Gingrich campaign and none since Jan. 16.

4. Image use: Nearly all the Republicans’ email messages use images, although most are campaign logos or head shots of the candidates along with family members or supporters. A few exceptions include photos of campaign swag, stills of embedded videos from TV commercials and Romney's increasing use of custom-designed imagery (see below).

The messages vary widely in their use of alt text to describe blocked images. Most use no alt text, while the Romney campaign uses two or three words per image.

All of the messages have been readable with blocked images, unlike many commercial emails which sometimes use a single large image and little to no text.

5. Copy style/tone:

Many messages employ a "one-to-one" manner, as personal notes from the candidates, their campaign managers and selected supporters, with frequent use of "I," "you" and "we" to create a more personal feel. Others read more like a traditional direct-mail campaign flyer or stump speech.

Paul and Santorum are more likely to jab at each other and Romney, while Romney focuses attention more on Obama, often with cheeky commentary.

Some examples:

  • Ron Paul:

  • Rick Santorum:

  • Mitt Romney:

6. Segmentation and tracking:
The Paul campaign, which requires ZIP codes at opt-in, has done the most to segment its messages and target them geographically.

The campaign segmented one donation-request email apparently by ZIP code so that the recipient's name (or substitute) and city appeared in the subject line. One researcher received the email with the subject line "<First Name>, I need the help of 5 Patriots in Green Bay. I received the same email but with "Liberty Activist, I need the help of 6 Patriots in Danville."


The Romney campaign also targeted the California subscribers to join them in Nevada for the upcoming caucus in the neighboring state.

7. Calls to action:
Nearly all the emails carried multiple calls to action, usually from two to six and any or all of the following:

  • General requests for money
  • Specific amounts requested
  • Money for specific causes, such as funding TV commercials
  • Requests to view a video not embedded in the email
  • Requests to forward the email to others

Although all campaigns except Paul's include social network icons (Twitter, Facebook, YouTube and/or Flickr), no candidates dedicated an email to "Connect with us on social media" as the call to action.

Santorum, Romney and Gingrich incorporate a stand-alone red "Donate" button in every email, while Ron Paul uses the button in an otherwise black-and-while "Money Bomb" banner at the top or midsection of his emails.

Again, the Romney campaign is more likely to be creative. One message, "Defeat Division," was built around a video feature Romney speaking to a protestor, with a call to "share it on FacebookTwitter, and by forwarding this email to friends and family."

Other examples:

  • A promo email for discounted winter campaign merchandise, which also showed the campaign is doing subject line testing: A) "15% Off Winter Merchandise" and B) "Limited Time: Get 15% Off."
  • A chance to donate and win a meeting with Romney
  • Creation of the "One Term Fund"

8. Signature line:
Santorum and Paul are more likely to sign their campaign letters themselves, although others, including campaign managers and allies, also sign the letters.

Almost all the Romney letters are signed by campaign workers rather than the candidate. The Paul campaign emails usually also use a signature facsimile for Ron Paul or his son Rand.

9. "P.S.":
Interestingly, the Ron Paul emails almost always have a “P.S.” message as shown above. While we’ve only received a few emails from Gingrich, he also used a P.S. in one of the emails.

10. Message length: The Paul campaign emails are the longest of the actively emailing candidates, coming in at an average 562 words (not including one with 2,026 words) compared with 142 for Romney and 382 for Santorum.

As an aside, one Ron Paul campaign email with the subject line "Right to the Point" acknowledged that some supporters found the letters a little long.

Future blog posts:
Coming up, I'll look at the frequency of the Republican candidates' emails, whether they use an administrative footer and how the messages render on mobile devices.

Anything you'd like to know about candidate emails that I haven't covered here? I welcome your comments below.

More on the Republican candidates’ use of email:
1) “GOP Throwdown: How Do the Candidates Stack Up on Email Marketing Practices?
2) “GOP Throwdown Part 2: Variety Is the Spice of From/Subject Lines


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