Presidential Election Marketing: Hillary and Bernie’s Quiet Email Battle


How the anatomy of an email could determine the next Democratic presidential nominee.

Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders are fighting a quiet cyber battle that could likely determine the next Democratic presidential nominee. Email marketing is still the most effective marketing method, and the candidates are using our inboxes to rally support. But, unlike Americans, all emails are not created equal. In the case of Hillary and Bernie, their emails are fundamentally different.

Bernie’s emails have the tone of a winner gaining even more momentum, whereas Hillary’s latent message is that of a campaign in need of resuscitation. This contrast raises the question: Do you want to help propel the winning team to a certain victory? Or, would you rather focus your efforts on rallying to revitalize dying hope? Hillary and Bernie’s campaigns seem to disagree on what motivates Americans. As such, their emails elicit entirely different emotions from their readers.

At the end of the day, Americans aren’t going to remember the details of an email. Rather, they will remember how the email made them feel. Clinton and Sanders’ campaigns are doing a great job building messaging that elicits consistent emotions across their emails. Which set of emotions will rally enough support to catapult their candidate to victory?

Let’s break down the anatomy of their emails to understand how the two campaigns are sending strikingly different implicit messages. All examples are from campaign emails in the last four weeks.

The Bait (A.K.A. The Subject Line)

Americans are busy. The subject line needs to show readers why they should care enough to open your email. What is the point going to be?

Bernie’s subject lines send a message of successful impact and building a future together:

  • Wall Street sounding the alarm
  • BREAKING: We just won New Hampshire
  • 8 years from now

Hillary’s subject lines hint at impending doom for her campaign:

  • Bernie raised $6 million yesterday
  • No matter what happens tonight
  • No intention of losing

Supporters are opening emails in the context of what was communicated in the subject. As such, Bernie’s readers will expect to read about a candidate who is making his platform a reality (on Wall Street and in the polls) and can start planning for a future that he will affect with change. On the other hand, Hillary’s subject lines read doomsday, and her supporters can expect to read about a losing fundraising battle and bad election odds.

The Point (A.K.A. The Body)

The body of the email is the candidate’s chance to follow through on the promise made in the subject line. Since the impetus resonated with the reader, the candidate can use this (brief) podium to further rally emotions. Here is where Hillary and Bernie have more than a soundbyte to woo supporters into action. As in their subject lines, the candidates choose to elicit opposing sentiments. Hillary relentlessly assumes the losing position and Bernie’s prose consistently imply victory — both independent of the reality of results.

Leading up to a vote:

In the days leading up to the New Hampshire Primary, Hillary and Bernie both tried to motivate their supporters to stand behind them. Hillary paints a picture of what tomorrow will look like if she loses. Bernie paints a picture of what victory will look like. Just like that, Hillary’s supporters are imagining digging her campaign out of a hole and Bernie’s are envisioning triumph.

  • Bernie: If we win tomorrow night, our victory will send a message, loudly and clearly, that “ENOUGH is ENOUGH!” This great nation and its government belong to all of the people, and not a handful of billionaires and their super PACs.
  • Hillary: Let’s prove that we’re a force to be reckoned with, and that whatever happens tonight, we’re ready to get back out there and fight twice as hard tomorrow.

After a win:

Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton celebrated their respective wins very differently. Let’s break it down. Bernie’s prose expanded his local victory in New Hampshire into a victory that spanned the breadth of the United States. Hillary chose to harken back to moments of defeat even as she celebrated her victory, thereby tarnishing what could have been an entirely positive sentiment. Bernie made his win larger than life and gave his supporters even more to fantasize about.  Hillary’s statement could just have easily been a consolation for a loss, since it doesn’t even mention a triumphant victory. She made her win smaller.

  • Bernie (after the New Hampshire Primary): Last night we sent a message that will echo from Wall Street to Washington, from Maine to California. And that is that the government of this great nation belongs to all of the people, and not just a handful of wealthy campaign contributors and their super PACs.
  • Hillary (after the Iowa Caucus): I’m so grateful to everyone who called a neighbor, or knocked a door, or contributed — you’ve poured your dreams and determination into this campaign. You never lost faith. Anytime we got knocked down, you got right back up.

After a loss:

Just like their wins were announced differently, so too were their losses. Bernie managed to turn his Iowa loss into a win, rewriting the narrative around his loss as a victorious accomplishment of the impossible. On the other hand, Hillary embraced the fact that her campaign was knocked down, and did not embed any sort of accomplishment or triumph into the result. Hillary announced her loss as a loss and thereby elicited the sentiment of defeat. Bernie positioned his loss as a victory and gave his supporters excitement to celebrate.

  • Bernie (after the Iowa caucus): Tonight we accomplished what the corporate media and political establishment once believed was impossible: after trailing Hillary Clinton in Iowa throughout this entire campaign, it looks as if we will leave the state with roughly the same number of delegates. I want to be clear with you about what this really means. Tonight’s result is a victory for our political revolution. We have proved that when people come together, anything is possible.
  • Hillary (after the New Hampshire Primary): Last night’s results in New Hampshire weren’t what we hoped for. But I woke up this morning ready to keep fighting for the issues you and I believe in.

The “What Next?” (A.K.A. The Call To Action)

The ‘call to action’ is where the campaigns need to leverage the emotions they have built in the body and drive their supporters towards action. As such, they mirror the sentiment built thus far in the campaigns’ respective emails. Bernie’s supporters are being asked to add fire to the fuel behind Bernie’s rocket ship, whereas Hillary’s supporters are being asked to grab shovels to help dig her out of a sinking hole.


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So, who wins the battle for presidential election marketing?

Jennifer Kessler is the Co-founder and CEO of Bizzy. Check back for her ongoing analysis of the marketing efforts behind the 2016 U.S. presidential election.

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