Belfast Telegraph

It’s game on (line) as US presidential race hots up

Fans of the computer game Burnout Paradise ( ) recently thought they were the victims of an internet spoof when they played it online.

As the cars in the game sped along an urban highway, players saw a billboard proclaiming: Early voting has begun.

The roadside advertisement directed people to

But this was no spoof. It was a commercial designed and paid for by Barack Obama’s campaign in the US election.

It’s not the only computer game incorporating ads for the Democratic Party candidate. Seventeen other online games also feature him.

It may seem like an odd battleground in the contest to be the next occupant of the White House, but it is an important channel for communicating with one particular demographic audience — men aged between 18 and 34.

Obama’s opponent, John McCain, has also entered the video game arena in a more modest fashion.

On his website, and on his supporters’ Facebook pages, he has a game called Pork Invaders — see

It’s based on the old Space Invaders format, and features pigs moving across the screen, representing “pork barrel” spending – that is, spending designed to benefit a particular candidate’s constituents. It’s just the latest development in the first US presidential race to be fought largely in cyberspace.

It contains many lessons for business when it comes to beating the competition.

And although I have no bias one way or the other, Obama seems to have won the battle.

To give you just one example why, the Illinois Senator’s supporters have brought out an application designed specifically for the iPhone. You can find it at

It feeds news reports, campaign talking points and videos to the user’s handset. It also uses the 3G iPhone’s GPS capabilities to return a list of the candidate’s local appearances.

The differences between Obama and McCain online are staggering.

Obama has around two million friends on Facebook ( compared with McCain’s 550,000. On MySpace ( Obama has 650,000 friends while McCain has 150,000.

On Twitter ( Obama has 91,000 people signed up to receive updates. McCain’s total is 2,100.

But the biggest difference is on YouTube. Obama’s channel ( boasts nearly 17 million video views. McCain’s ( lags behind at just 1.6 million. Obama has also been clever in his use of niche channels on the web. Check out

Previous candidates paved the way. Andrew Jackson made widespread use of the new mail system in the early 1800s. Abraham Lincoln used the newspapers.

And Franklin D Roosevelt mastered the medium of radio.

But Obama has demonstrated a skill in internet marketing that is quite staggering.

it’s much better to have a million friends than a million dollars

Starting with a relatively modest list of email addresses, he increased it dramatically with “viral” distribution of his message.

Each campaigner on his email list is encouraged to forward information to friends.

More email addresses were collected from the crowds each time he made a personal appearance.

He has made a deliberate point of targeting social networking sites.

And in terms of fundraising, he made the calculation that with his use of extended networks, it was easier to obtain 1,000 donations of $100 than one donation of $100,000.

As one leading business proponent of the web has said, it’s much better to have a million friends than a million dollars, because one will lead to the other if you use the network correctly.

You’ll find Gary Vaynerchuck, the man in question, at .

It’s all about getting people talking about you or your product. It’s also about brand recognition. All I have to do is say the word “change” and you know exactly what I mean.

Darren Lemon is General Manager of eircom NI ( His email address is

Belfast Telegraph