What Mitt Romney's VP App Learned from Zynga

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The genius of the new Mitt Romney VP app is a lot like the genius of an addictive, yet simple, Zynga game, but instead of convincing you to keep tapping for FarmVille corn, this app asks you tap to get a politician's name. Like the games we have gotten ourselves addicted to, Romney's app plays on our mental desires. When you fire up Mitt VP, the purpose doesn't exactly jump out at you. And you might be underwhelmed by its lack of functions. It seems to be designed to do just one thing: tell users Romney's VP pick "first" -- whatever that means, since everyone who gets the app will be "first," and in order to get the news first from the app you would have to have it open at just the right moment before the headline "X is selected as Mitt Romney's vice president" doesn't blare at you from every other media device. Why would anyone use it at all? But, after spending time with the app and talking to a few app experts, that's sort of the function: convince you to keep using it long enough to get other people to use it. Every page of Romney's app does something for the campaign. Unlike Barack Obama, who has essentially had three years to prepare for this election, and has released a much more full-featured campaign app, Romney hasn't had as much time. But his app designers do appear to have learned what's worked from the Zyngas of the world in building an app whose main purpose is to replicate itself. 


The first thing you notice with the Mitt VP app is that to get access one has to sign in. This is very much on purpose a way to get people's information. "It’s a pretty clear copy of what Obama did in 2008 with text us to be the first to know the VP and they got, somewhere like over a million new contacts in their sms data base by doing that," said Clay Schossow Co-founder and Partner at New Media Campaigns, a web design, development, and marketing firm with a specialization in politics that has worked with over 100 campaigns. "He’s encouraging people to give him more data by downloading the app." he continued. What kind of data, exactly? The sign-up part asks for a full name, e-mail address, telephone number and zip code. People can lie about these things, but the option to connect through Facebook gives the Romney campaign at least e-mail information and probably a phone number, which is mandatory for those who use the Facebook iPhone app. Many people put their location on there, too. Most people don't lie about their information on Facebook, so that provides the campaign with a more guaranteed contact point.

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While this part seems like a throw away, put in there to make the app seem like it does more things, it does have an interesting function. Not only does it lets users follow @MittRomney, but it also has a tweet function. It's not exactly a retweet function, as we learned when playing around with it. The tweets don't look like retweet of @MittRomney, but rather, as if the Tweeter had written a Romney campaign slogan themselves, which is kind of weird if you don't normally make political proclamations on your Twitter account. The Romney doctrine gets spread along with links that bring more people into the Romney campaign site.  


This is the main function of the app and it doesn't do anything until the one day it does, and until then this page is more of a command than a function: "There's no telling when the announcement will be, so check back often." Yet, this is the genius behind the offering. "Research shows that if you promise someone something -- even if that thing doesn’t seem valuable -- then people are much more likely to download the app," explains Schossow. This is the reason anyone would sign-up in the first place. It's a strategy that the campaign borrowed not only from Obama's 2008 similar texting initiative, but also corporate apps that entice people to download things to win prizes or money. As Schossow noted, the genius here is that Romney's campaign didn't give up anything too valuable for your data. But, people will sign up because of their curiosity. 


This isn't even a page. The link at the bottom redirects to a webpage on your phone's browser. It's pretty telling that a campaign app wouldn't prioritize the giving money part. 

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.