From March 2004 through November, the nation was focused on the Presidential campaign as newspapers, magazines, television and Internet all ran stories regarding the race for the White House. Candidates worked diligently to grab the attention of all voters – including a powerful, yet often hard to reach demographic– young voters.
With 60 percent of this group owning a mobile phone, and less than 25 percent watching traditional news programs, the vehicle to reach these voters was clear: their mobile phones – a device that accompanies them whether at school, at work or at play. So, to help grab the attention of the youth vote, Rock the Vote (RTV) and Motorola joined forces to create Rock the Vote Mobile (RTVM). The goal of RTVMO was to get more Americans, ages 18 to 30, involved in the political process by providing a central, convenient source to access news, candidate positioning, poll locations and more – all from the palm of their hand.
Motorola looked to Hill & Knowlton to develop a strategic media program to inform young voters about RTVM to ensure that they would have the opportunity to get educated on the campaign and more importantly have the motivation to get involved and go to the polls on Election Day.
Because young adults are typically uninterested in becoming involved in the political process, the RTVM program needed to be easy to use and needed to illustrate immediate benefits in order to garner attention from this hard to reach demographic. With over more than 120,000 young Americans joining the program in its inaugural year, RTVM was able to incorporate the right mix of relevant information, celebrity cachet and smart media placements in order to successfully interest the powerful youth voter.
When Motorola and RTV joined forces to create the RTVM campaign in March 2004, the two organizations became dedicated to motivate a group typically disillusioned and uninterested in politics to get involved. And with anything new, journalists tend to be skeptical. Motorola and RTV had to prove the mobile phone was a viable and reliable political medium in the election process.
Prior to the launch of this effort, H&K conducted an audit of the existing political organizations that target the youth population, ensuring our planning process the RTVM campaign would be seen as truly cutting-edge and the most influential.
The planning for the campaign included first looking at natural milestones in the election process that could be leveraged for RTVM – events like “Super Tuesday,” conventions, early voting days, and more provided natural ways for RTVM to engage with consumers. In addition to these activities, H&K created specific RTVM activities and events to further generate involvement in the campaign.
Hill & Knowlton’s objectives included: encouraging more than 20,000 young voters to join the RTVM texting campaign, ensuring each would be more engaged, involved and informed about the upcoming election; generating lifestyle media coverage to target the primary audience and business media coverage to target the secondary audience amidst a sea of political coverage and aid the overarching RTV goal of motivating 20 million young voters to cast their ballot on Election Day through the use of celebrity endorsements, a great complement to media coverage.
Hill & Knowlton developed an eight-month plan that included the following elements: a launch announcement specifically timed to coincide with an important election landmark day, a blitz campaign to encourage early opt-ins giving the program political clout, the distribution of polling questions to tally opinions of the youth vote on a consistent basis, and last-minute information on finding polling locations.
In order to deliver the RTVM messages in a tone and style that would resonate with the youth audience, H&K reviewed marketing studies that focused on the best way to reach and impact young adults and the team determined that the ideal strategy involved smart media relations (getting coverage in the outlets that the youth market read, as well as in the outlets that their parents read), celebrity involvement and a consistent ongoing proactive outreach tied to relevant election events.
In order to launch the RTVM program with the necessary political fervor and excitement, H&K chose Super Tuesday, March 2, as the campaign launch day. This day provided a perfect backdrop to launch what would be the largest wireless political initiative to date.
Immediately after the launch, the “20 for 20”drive began, designed to bring to life the campaign goal of reaching 20,000 young voters. We developed the “20 for 20” phrase, representing the 20,000 consumers the campaign hoped to attract to represent the desired goal of 20 million voters in November.
Knowing that youth also spend an enormous amount of time online (equal to using their mobile phone), H&K developed an online RTVM component, providing an additional way for young voters to join the campaign. We worked with Motorola’s existing database of handset users to send out special campaign text messages regarding breaking news, voter registration deadlines, etc., to drive additional traffic and opt-ins to the program.
In order to capitalize on the youth connection to celebrities, H&K developed a viral MPEG and secured Rachel Bilson of the hit FOX TV series, “The OC”, as the star. Rachel used this opportunity to inform youth on the importance of becoming civically engaged – urging each viewer to make his or her vote count.
The MPEG was distributed to various email databases and cited on appropriate chat rooms, driving additional awareness of the program and directing consumers to opt-in to the campaign. In addition, a select group of journalists were among the first to receive the MPEG, ensuring the media was aware of the RTVM’s ongoing efforts.
In order to maintain the interest of young voters throughout the program, Motorola and Rock the Vote established a series of mobile poll questions whereby voters were able to voice their opinions through their handsets. The fast results were used to showcase the pulse of young America to the media like never before. And for last-minute information on Election Day, participants could access information on their specific polling location, ensuring everyone knew where to cast their important votes.
The RTVM campaign was a huge success, signing up more than 120,000 young voters to participate in the effort — far surpassing the RTVM’s original goal of 20,000 youth voters.
RTVMO established itself as an effective and easy-to-use tool, as in its inaugural year, the program’s microsite received 428,137 hits throughout the campaign, more than 2,800 site visitors downloaded the “Find Your Candidate” program (created to help users identify the candidate that best represented their own political views), and more than 4,500 RTVM participants sought voter registration materials via their mobile phones.
Campaign coverage of RTVM was extensive, with a number of publications – read by youth and their parents – writing about the effort and many youth-focused TV programs broadcasting news of the effort including Parade, Marie Claire, E! Online, ET on MTV, Vibe online, The New York Times, Chicago Sun-Times, RCR Wireless News, and Brandweek. The campaign generated more than 100 million impressions. Through combined efforts of multiple groups, including RTVM – nearly 21 million voters ages 18 to 30 cast ballots on Election Day – close to five million more than in 2000 – representing the largest voter turnout since 1972 among American youth.
To help support RTVM, many notable Hollywood celebrities, including Amber Tamblyn, Jake Gyllenhaal and Christina Applegate, joined forces with Motorola and RTV to help engage young voters in the election.