There are those in the PR industry who argue that Obama is a communications pioneer. They note that he mobilised five million volunteers to attract funds and communicate via social media. That shows communications becoming democratic, decentralized, interactive, more word-of-mouth – even tribal. These fans of Web 2.0 overlook one very big detail.
Obama spent the most money ever in a Presidential election race on TV advertisements. The normal critics of such spending, however, were silenced because Obama was their man. They preferred instead to talk about how he was activating a mass participatory base (and he did).
What Obama’s campaign team seemed to have understood is that modern communication techniques do not replace traditional ones; they complement them. There was no substitute for mass advertising. National TV debates continued to form a major part of the campaign.
Stefana Broadbent, Head of the User Adoption Lab Swiss Innovations, makes the point most clearly in a white paper (The reality of convergence: mobile content) that I wrote for First Tuesday Zurich, sponsored by PriceWaterhouseCoopers. She says:
“What we’re seeing, which is really interesting, is that none of these communication channels substitutes a previous one. But what is definitely clear in this, in our studies over these years, is that there seems to be no replacements. But people, there’s a French word, (engagement), there’s an enthusiasm for any channel. The new channels are incorporated in this sense.
“What is also very interesting is that the new channels come to redefine the old channels. So they’re not substitutional. But they do have an effect of redefinition. But what is also fascinating is that people are incredibly capable of distinguishing what are the strengths and specificity of each of the channels, and how they can actually exploit them to best advantage.”
Just like in my home, the TV, radio, email, SMS, IM, blogging, social networking, POTS and Skype are virtually going on at the same time. Each serves a different purpose.