How Barack is Like the iPhone
As you may have read, it looks like Barack Obama will announce a staggering $32.5 fundraising total for the second quarter, setting a new record for primary season fundraising. And more importantly, he now has over 250,000 donors. This comes despite the fact that the press coverage of Obama and the views of the insidery-journalist types has been pretty jaded and skeptical of late. So what gives? Why are the chattering classes seeming to tire of Obama as the momentum for him among the grassroots continues to build? Well, I think it’s because Obama is like the iPhone. The last thing as hyped as the iPhone was Barack Obama: the ceaseless press, covers of magazines, etc… And the arc of that hype was predictable, after that initial burst, the people who cover politics for a living developed a bit of Obama-fatigure, and they started looking for flaws, or talking about his performances as being underwhelming. I guarantee you the media will be doing (and has already started doing) the same with the iPhone.
But I think Obama is like the iPhone in a few other ways as well. The iPhone is both an absolutely amazing, breakthrough device and the product of an insane amount of hype and the machinations of celebrity culture. So is Barack: he is both supremely talented and inspiring and the beneficiary of the cult of celebrity. It’s the latter, however, that I think is largely responsible for his amazing performance among small donors. I would guess that the psychology and motivations for small donors is quite different than for large donors. If you’re a big donor, you want access: a rubber chicken dinner, a photo-op, maybe a phone call answered. For small donors, it’s entirely a different calculation. It’s not because you think the $50 will buy you influence, or even, really, make that big of a difference. It’s an identity statement, and a desire to be a part of something. When you pay that money, you become part of the Obama Phenomenon. That’s what people are buying. Do you think the folks who stood on line on Friday to buy an iPhone were standing online to purchase a piece of consumer electronics? No, they were doing it to be a part of something. Those of us who shelled out the money, likewise were purchasing some small part of the hype and fame—some minor morsel of celebrity for ourselves.
At some level, I think the Obama campaign understands this aspect of the psychology of small donors better than any of the other campaigns. And that’s why he’s kicking so much butt.