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Message Machine: Dinner at Sarah Jessica Parker’s House

Last Monday, the Obama campaign sent out an email about a dinner with the President at Sarah Jessica Parker's house this coming Thursday. We received 7 versions of it.

The 2012 Presidential campaigns have massive, state-of-the-art databases that contain data on millions of voters and past supporters, which they’re using to compete in a campaign that’s increasingly being fought online. While the campaigns started amassing these databases in past cycles to target direct mail, this political season they are being augmented and used in new and sometimes opaque ways.

For the past few weeks, we’ve been asking readers to send us the campaign emails they receive to help us understand and shine a light on how modern campaigns are being run. So far about 250 readers have sent us more than 1,800 email examples.

For instance, last Monday, the Obama campaign sent out an email about a dinner with the President at Sarah Jessica Parker’s house this coming Thursday. Participants in our Message Machine project forwarded over 100 copies of this mailing to us and we found seven distinct variations of the message. The Obama campaign refused to comment on the email but you can explore the differences in the Message Machine.

Some versions of this message promise, in a postscript, an after-dinner concert by Mariah Carey, while others barely mention the concert. The mailings show the campaign tailoring its message for different audiences — variations of the message ranged from a very brief introduction and a link to a video, to a longer email asking for a donation. Recipients who had recently donated to the Obama campaign received emails with slightly different wording than those who had not, but just who is being targeted with some of the variations is hard to decipher. For instance, one variant mentions that Sarah Jessica Parker is a mother, while another that Anna Wintour is attending the dinner. These changes in wording suggest that the campaign is optimizing their messages, but we need a bigger sample to figure out how. The more people who forward messages, the clearer and more accurate our results will be. If you receive campaign emails and would like to take part in the project, please send them to [email protected].

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