Mitt’spelling: Missed Opportnutity?

Post published in June, 2012

When my older brother Tim was 5, he apparently wrote his name backwards. It’s possible he did this only once, but to this day he is known in our family as “Mit.”

Perhaps the notably more famous “Mitt” Romney will hereafter always be known as the man for “a better Amercia.” It’s hard to know what will stick.

 Viral Marketing Agency

We tried to find out if the designer or agency that released the With Mitt iPhone App got fired for misspelling America. Or if there was at least a discussion—upon the realization that this had gone viral—of how it could be used to the advantage of the Romney campaign. We did not find out.

In case you missed the story, people immediately began using the App itself to create humorous plays on the error. It exploded on Twitter and spread to regular news.

In case you missed the story, people immediately began using the App itself to create humorous plays on the error. It exploded on Twitter and spread to regular news.

There was a Tumblr page dedicated to it almost immediately, and with the attention being paid to the topic, @Typohunter, for example, tweeted out a typo on the Romney campaign Facebook page and also noted: “According to LinkedIn, Romney campaign is looking for a copywriter.” Makes sense given the typos.

I have no intention of venturing into politics here, but I do feel bad for the guys on the inside who had to take responsibility for this mistake. I can almost hear the conversation:

Senior person responsible: “So you released the App on schedule?”
Person directly responsible: “Yes. Barely. Thank goodness.”
“Did you check everything?”
“Yes … many times. Is something wrong?”
“How do you spell America?”
“What!? Oh my God! Excuse me, we can re-release the App.”
“Um, no. You sit here for a minute and practice your spelling while I step in the other room and contemplate how to fire you in the most painful possible way.”

The thought of this kinda sends a shiver down my spine. I’m glad we didn’t do it, and I hope those who did still have a job.

The opportunity for fun is at the heart of viral marketing, and what happened with this Romney campaign App COULD be looked at as something more interesting than a few days of online entertainment.

The opportunity for fun is at the heart of viral marketing, and what happened with this Romney campaign App COULD be looked at as something more interesting than a few days of online entertainment.

A significant swath of voters, and younger voters in particular, are going to get some or all of their decision-critical information about the Presidential campaigns from Facebook and other online sources. This runs contrary to where the bulk of the campaign money is still being spent: namely TV.

Clearly the Republicans are keen to play the online campaigning game. The Romney campaign website, for example, is markedly better than the Obama campaign website (That’s another post topic). And listening to an interview on NPR last week, the developer of Politwoops “deleted tweets from politicians,” noting that some Republican congressmen started posting and intentionally deleting tweets when they heard that the website was getting a lot of attention.

“Viral” campaign marketing can be effective. Regardless of what you thought of Sarah Silverman’s The Great Schlep video, it was massively successful and possibly turned the 2008 election in Florida. In general though it’s pretty damn hard to make something go viral.

Note: If you are politically sensitive or bothered by the word f#%k and its derivations. Plug your ears when you watch this.

For effective viral marketing everything needs to be nearly perfect, AND if that weren’t hard enough, the stars also have to align. As YouTube’s Trends Manager, Kevin Allocca explains in his TED talk “Why videos go viral,” it is extremely difficult to create something that can really spread and have an influence, but one of the key factors is genuine unexpectedness—who would have thought the Romney campaign would not know how to spell America? This is really good viral material.

So we know it’s hard to create viral content. Well, it’s harder still to use viral activity to drive action outside of its intrinsic entertainment value. The Kony campaign nailed the spontaneous celebrity endorsement aspect of a viral campaign and exploded as a viral phenomenon, but fell down on its promised carry-through-to-action due at least in part to very negative PR.

As a presidential challenger, Mr. Romney needs to (among many other things) make himself likable, and this is where a viral campaign could play a significant role. Remember the rather astounding Facebook facts cited in Is Facebook Your Newspaper? The viral nature of this spelling error seems to hold within it some seeds of opportunity that the Romney campaign could have used to capture the attention—and then the hearts—of a voter demographic currently held tightly by his opponent.

This begs the question—asked at the beginning—what else could have been done with “Amercia” aside from sweeping it unceremoniously under the rug?

This begs the question—asked at the beginning—what else could have been done with “Amercia” aside from sweeping it unceremoniously under the rug?

It occurred to me that the campaign could have released a series of witty short videos that took on themes of interest and concern to the under 34’s who are at the heart of the viral engine. He could have verbally mangled each topic in some way making them fun to watch and simultaneously showing that Mr. Romney gets it, and that he’s a likeable guy. This could theoretically help inoculate him against some of his disadvantages in the eyes of younger voters.

Then I saw that Jimmy Kimmel beat him to it.

We now have the attention of the viral demographic. They all know about the App. What can we do with this today? Can we flip this to our advantage?

Maybe that imaginary conversation at the marketing agency should have gone more like this: “Tim, come over here! Did you notice that we misspelled America on our App, and now everyone’s talking about it? We now have the attention of the viral demographic. They all know about the App. What can we do with this today? Can we flip this to our advantage?

It would be nice to think such a conversation possible.

Please excuse any spelling errors in this post.

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