In 2008, Barack Obama was the first presidential candidate in the United States to utilize SMS technology to send campaign related messages to voters. A large part of his mobile marketing campaign focused on providing recipients with voting information. According published reports, Obama had 3,000,000 voters opt-in to his text messaging alerts5. This technology advantage gave Obama an edge over republican candidate John McCain and was able to reach a new group of voters through mobile messaging.
In 2012, the FEC approved text donations which signified the start of using of mass messaging to collect donations in presidential elections. Both Barack Obama and Mitt Romney incorporated text donations into their campaigns. Text messaging gave the candidates an efficient way to reach voters directly and ask for small donations. Text messaging to donate was a convenient process for donors in 2012 because their donation could be added directly to their phone bill. However, in 2013, an agreement by wireless carriers to stop premium SMS billing created an issue for political organizations using this technology. While all the participating wireless carriers agreed to continue to allow charitable giving by Premium SMS, some did not agree to allow political contributions.
This change made the process to donate in the 2016 election more challenging because candidates now had to put a link in the text message to donate. Donors needed to follow a link, select the donation amount, enter their info and then (in most cases) add their credit card. Using a web link allowed the candidates to collect more money through credit cards, but it added many steps to the donation process. To get donors to click on the links in the text message, the candidates had to create more captivating experiences and stories within their text messages. As a result, the use of MMS messages became a significant part of text message campaigns in 2016 because it enabled candidates to engage recipients visually. Both candidates incorporated MMS messages into their campaigns, but the candidates used this content in very different ways.