I'm on the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee's (aka, the DCCC) e-mail list, and I find it absolutely fascinating. It's hardly a secret that I usually vote Democratic, so I probably got on the list at some point when I made a donation. Let's look at their e-mails from August 31st, the last day of fund raising in August:
(Where possible, I've kept the formatting provided in the e-mail)
On one hand, these e-mails are a work of art. They hit a range of tones from business like ("This is the FINAL NOTICE of your member status") to all out catastrophe ("everything just failed"). The subject lines range from emotional ("MIRACLE (! ! !)") to non-nonsensical ("[8/31/14] ↔"). And the From addresses cleverly support the tone of the message. And this is just a single day. In the past, I've received e-mails with the subject "We've got nothing left," "ACCEPT DEFEAT" and my personal favorite "Must Read (DON'T DELETE)." Seriously, who writes this stuff? And who has the chutzpah to e-mail me 7 times in one day, with the second e-mail of the day being "FINAL NOTICE," followed by 5 more e-mails.
On the other hand, I can't help but feel this strategy is all wrong. The above approach is clearly meant to whip up the crowd and emotionally manipulate people. I suppose that's what all fundraising is, but this is doing so with a scary degree of precision. Not to mention, the very same Democrats who complain that the Republicans / Tea Party Leaders are poisoning the debate all in the name of getting their base excited, are effectively doing the same thing with these e-mails. Time Magazine explained this quite well with this article: Begging for Impeachment.
But there's something beyond just ugly tactics that bothers me. Consider this e-mail from August 29th with the subject line "All Hope Is Lost (22204):"
This morning President Obama emailed you for the SECOND time this month.
That’s because we're in serious trouble. Karl Rove and the Koch Brothers are massively outspending us -- and we only have 48 hours to respond.
If we get blown out right now, we might as well give up hope until 2016.
The e-mail calls it like it sees it: if we don't make enough money, we can't win in the next election. Or put more tersely, money = votes.
And that may be a truism today. But, and this probably just me being naive, that's not actually true. The correct formula is: People voting = votes.
I get that the DCCC is playing the game. They need to bring in as much cash as possible to garner as many votes as possible. But I say that misses the point. I say that if they put the same level of creativity in reaching voters as they put into crafting Subject lines and From addresses, they may be able to both win and help change the tactics that work. Again, put more tersely: innovate.
Incidentally, want to guess what the e-mail from September 1st looks like? Here's the relevant line:
The final tally is in: we had our BEST AUGUST EVER for online donations.
And the cycle of e-mails are complete: from the depths of despair, to elation. Give it a few days, and it'll be time to start it all over again.