Hey! Why are politicians’ emails so spammy?

Ever since Obama brought the sexy back to email marketing, email has been at the forefront of grassroots political fundraising strategies.

We all remember the “Hey” subject line which made Obama’s campaign millions… and since then every email company under the sun has used “Hey” as a catchy subject line to sell you their services. Well done, email marketing industry!

So perhaps it’s not surprising that other politicians across the globe have jumped on board the email bandwagon, whether it’s in the USA, Canada, the UK, or anywhere else. And why not? Email is awesome, we can all agree on that.

In America, with election season firing up, our brethren across the pond can expect a deluge of emails, be they from the candidates, from super PACs, or other interested parties.

I’m not American, so I haven’t signed up to any politician’s email lists. But, I am Canadian (no one’s perfect) so, during our general election in 2015, I signed up to emails from all the major political parties.

OK, so for those of you who aren’t avid followers of Canadian politics (which, it must be said, is marginally more exciting than a colonoscopy) note that the election in Canada was last year, and the new Liberal government, with their ever-so-dreamy leader Justin Trudeau, has a five year mandate.

So it’s no longer election season. Awesome! My inbox will be spared from incessant requests for $5 and $10 there, right?


Liberal Party of Canada email spam

But surely, the NDP don’t follow the same strategy. Instead, they’re focused on following the parliamentary process to engender democratic values in the House of Commons, right?


NDP Party of Canada email spam

What about the Conservative Party of Canada, who had formed governments for 12 years until last autumn?

Conservative Party of Canada email spam

Note: The Conservative party didn’t have an email signup form on their website, or their Facebook page, and they didn’t respond to my repeated requests on email and Twitter to be added to their list. Go figure.

But still. That’s a lot of emails. And wow, those subject lines are pretty ropey. They’re taking ambiguity to a new level – and well, hey, when has a politician ever been ambiguous?

Plus, the from names are often from people I’ve never heard of. And the cadence is intense, even though the objective of the emails (to get you to donate $5) is all pretty much the same for each send.

Were it any other industry, we would call these filthy spammer tactics. So why are politicians exempt?

What? One set of rules for the people, and one for politicians? Never in this world…

So why are they all doing this?

My guess: when they sent out their first email asking for donations, they made some money. And, every other one they send out they make a little bit more, albeit at a decaying rate. So, they just blindly hit the launch button over, and over, and over. And over. And over. And over. Ad infinitum.

I asked my mum what she thought, as she gets the same emails, and, believe it or not, is not an email marketing person. Her response: “I am so sick and tired of them asking me for money. It’s not even an election year!” (I then explained to her what an unsubscribe button is, and now she’s free!)

Now, this is just little old Canada, a large but small country that’s known for maple syrup, punching people in the face whilst on skates, and Justin Bieber.

What about in the US of A, where the scale of political advertising is huge?

In America, everything is bigger than in Canada (except for the overall area (true story), but let’s not pick nits).

We are, of course, limited by the data we have access to. Luckily, our friends over at eDataSource helped us out.

The sheer volume of political advertising via the email channel is overwhelming. Bernie Sanders sent out 411 campaigns in March. But he wasn’t to be outdone  by Hillary, who sent out 728 in the same month. Between all the major US candidates, in March alone, there were no less than 1790 email campaigns sent out from current or former Presidential hopefuls.

That’s a lot of email. Take a moment and check out the full stats here (PDF, 187kb).

Here are a few interesting trends to take note of:

  1. Donald Trump is the least frequent emailer, to the smallest list.

This is perhaps counter-intuitive, as his groundswell of grassroots support has catapulted him to become the presumptive Republican nominee. But: his open rate towers over anyone else’s at 28.2%. I would expect his list to grow in the coming months.

I asked John Landsman from eDataSource what his thoughts were on The Donald trailing in the email war:

“Trump’s email activity has been surprisingly light, but he has not needed email, given his domination of earned and social media. That strategy may prove short-sighted in the general election.”

  1. Sanders’ email list sure must be feel the burn of high cadence…

Perhaps not a surprise, but Bernie’s campaign has been typified by non-mainstream, grassroots support. And this seems to follow in his email statistics – 5m people on his list, and a staggering 400 campaigns in March alone. What’s interesting is as his volume of campaigns goes up, so does his open rate!

  1. Hillary remains the email champion, in terms of list size and frequency.

A list of 7.1m people, the lucky lot of whom received 728 campaigns in March. But, her open rate has decreased from 15% to 12%, a nearly perfect inverse correlation with send volume. This is a sign of an over-used list.

An email list size is by no means a proxy for overall popularity. But the trends in response rates tell quite the story.

Clinton is following the “send more email” mantra that’s espoused by many “experts” (usually ones who make more money when you send more email, mind you). This is resulting in decaying list quality.

Bernie is sending more too – but he’s either sending more good stuff, or his audience just loves anything he says.

And Trump, well, The Donald doesn’t care about best practice. In fact, according to some sources, he’s forcing Mexico to pay his ESP bill every month.

What can email marketers learn from politicians’ strategies?

This article is, of course, based upon limited data, and was written by a Canadian who lives in London, so let’s bear that in mind.

But, for the sake of argument, here are a few takeaways:

  1. Earned media is the most powerful channel, and email can act as a solid backup from that. This is what Trump’s doing.
  2. Spamming is bad, no matter who you are. Clinton’s decaying response rates indicate this fact.
  3. Politicians don’t care about your inbox.

No matter which candidate you support, no matter which country you’re in, we can all look forward to receiving a shedload of emails, whether or not there’s an election on.

Hey! don’t forget though, it’s not spam, it’s your democratic process hard at work.



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