Watching the coverage of Mitt Romney’s just-announced running-mate, Paul Ryan, Saturday morning, I could not help but get excited every time newscasters mentioned “confirmed via the Mitt Romney VP app.” For the first time, an app has been used as an organization’s primary method of pushing news. Not a website, not a Facebook page, but an app was used to break the Apple-like secrecy of Romney’s VP nominee. But did the Romney campaign choose an app just to look more “hip” than the opposition or was there a genuine, strategic purpose for this choice?
Combine the needs of a presidential campaign and the distinct advantages of a mobile app, and one can see that having a mobile app solves several problems. Push notifications are the biggest advantage of mobile apps that dovetail with a campaign because they deliver messages like no other platform can do effectively. With a simple push notification, Romney’s campaign told the world who the presidential hopeful chose as a running mate, and it was immediately on the screen of every app user. The announcement wasn’t tucked away on a website or Facebook page, and there was no need for a lengthy press release.
The advocacy tools allotted to a campaign thanks to a mobile app are fantastic as well. From an app, a campaign can direct a user to make a certain tweet or Facebook post with one tap. Sending an email on behalf of a campaign is so simple technologically but limitless in advocacy value. With an app, a campaign can make every supporter who downloads it a hub for echoing campaign messages by asking users to retweet or email every message they send.
Combine these communication tactics with a mobile device’s location detection, and a mobile app becomes that much more valuable. Is the campaign having an event and wanting to leverage a base of supporters in the event’s region to talk about it? That’s easy with a mobile app because an app can request location data from a user. What is interesting is that gathering location information was not impossible before mobile apps; if a campaign wanted that data, it could just ask for that information in a form on a website. But process was laborious for users and scared people away. No one really likes giving out that information, and asking for it on a website means users must manually enter their data. An app just needs to ask for “permission” to access a user’s location. The same information is gathered, but it is easier for a user to simply grant an app permission to know his or her location than to have to enter it by hand.
Despite all of the technological reasons a mobile app helps a campaign succeed, there is the inherent caché of a mobile app. When Barack Obama ran for president in 2008, his campaign was cool. I was in college and for many politically invested friends, it was “cool” to support Obama even if his values did not exactly align with their own. There is no illusion that the Romney app and the counterpart Romney VP app are an attempt by the campaign to look as cool as Obama.
Has the Romney campaign succeeded in looking cool? Yes. The campaign borrowed some marketing tactics from Apple by teasing the media with the prospect of a VP announcement and then combined that with the company’s own status symbol, apps. They produced a stellar app and promoted it beautifully to capture the attention of country.