"Etch a sketch Romney" was the top search term trending on Google all day Thursday. Following a Romney campaign flub involving the classic drawing toy, what will undoubtedly become known as Etch A Sketch-Gate is dogging the GOP presidential hopeful across visual digital platforms, too, including the latest channel for online political campaigning and attacks, Pinterest. Romney Etch A Sketch images are floating around Pinterest, yet whether the platform - dominated by female users - will be more successful as a disseminator of positive or negative imagery remains to be seen.
A "pins" search on the site results in several new images created in reaction to a statement from Romney's senior advisor Wednesday suggesting his general election campaign could represent a fresh start after the primaries. "It's almost like an Etch A Sketch; you can kind of shake it up, and we start all over again," he said during an interview with CNN.
On Pinterest, images featuring Romney's face illustrated in the recognizable crimson frame are prevalent. Etch a Sketch-in is an account with 164 followers featuring several pinned images displaying contrasting quotes from Romney that imply he takes vacillating positions on issues. The account acts as a companion to EtchASketchMittRomney.com, which features the same images. A mom even posted a photo of her daughter displaying her use of Etch-A-Sketch as an anti-Romney campaign sign that reads, "Vote Felicia for President."
Like corporate brands, political campaigns are just beginning to explore ways to use Pinterest, which lends itself well to the campaign visuals that can produce an emotional impact on voters, sometimes called "polioptics." There are attack accounts on Pinterest mocking Romney, Rick Santorum, and First Lady Michelle Obama, along with an official Newt Gingrich Pinterest account. President Barack Obama's campaign - known for its iconic visuals - also appears to have set up an account, though it's just a place holder with no images pinned there yet.
"Politics is an increasingly visual game, with candidates and interest groups pitching their ideas via infographics, videos and pictures, and Pinterest is the best visual tool online right now," said David All, chief creative officer of the David All Group, a social media agency that works on corporate issue advocacy campaigns and with trade associations. The agency recently published a Pinterest tip sheet for brands.
"Any social network growing at the rate that Pinterest is is something campaigns should evaluate," said Zac Moffatt, digital director for the Romney campaign.
The site was the third most gaining web property in February according to comScore, growing from 11.7 million to 17.8 million unique users between January and February. Various audience measurement reports show anywhere from 68 percent to 82 percent of Pinterest users are women. Considering the importance of appealing to female voters, it's no surprise political campaigns are paying attention.
Accounts spoofing Michelle Obama poke fun at her "Let’s Move" campaign to improve children's health and physical fitness, and take Pinterest users' fascination with fashion to a new level of sarcasm. A fake Michelle Obama account offers a collection of attire she could wear to the next State of the Union address. "Flashy Lanvin dress? More like understated elegance with a nice side of 'I'm better than you,'" quips the caption.
What's unique about many of the Pinterest parodies is their inherent connection to the platform itself. It's blossomed in popularity as a virtual scrapbooking trove of aspirational visuals, where people post images of clothes they'd like to wear, designer pillows, or the well-defined ab muscles they wish they had.
"On Pinterest you're sort of holding up these wish lists of things you could have if you had lots of money," said Eric Spiegelman, head of digital at GreeneStreet Films/Jetpack Media, producer of the comedy video series Old Jews Telling Jokes, and creator of a Romney Pinterest parody with around 800 followers. One collection of pinned images on Pinterest.com/FakeMittRomney includes a photo of a large boat deemed a "starter yacht" and another of a heaping spoonful of caviar. "Everything is cheaper when you buy it in bulk!"
For Spiegelman, the draw of Pinterest as a satirist was to illustrate what he calls Romney's "tone deafness to class inequality."
Yet, a glance at the most popular pins on the site reveals anything but negative imagery. A cascade of bridesmaid gowns, exotic footwear, indulgent food photos, human babies and baby animals, colorful home décor and inspirational messages ("I'm not giving up, I'm just starting over.") flows down the Popular page on Pinterest.
Political campaigns on the site "need to remember the audience," said All. "Pinterest is about 80 percent women, and for now anyway, it's not a place for hardball politics. It's important to cater the message to the medium, and Pinterest is more conducive to positive politics, not negative ads or pointed attacks."
"Pinterest as a medium is a very, very powerful opportunity for a campaign to share a story," said Moffatt. "It will be as successful as the content you put on there."
Mitt Romney's wife Ann has generated lots of interest in her account, which she was inspired to create by her granddaughter and daughter-in-law who also use the image collection tool. The Ann Romney Pintrest account has more than 4,000 followers. A recipe pin board includes links to recipes for butternut squash soup and meatloaf cakes - evidently a favorite of Mitt's. Her "Patriotic" board is quintessential Pinterest, studded with photos of cheerily decorated bicycles and a bright red strawberry dipped in white icing and blue sugar.
The candidate himself, however, does not have a Pinterest account, though the campaign isn't ruling it out. Republican candidates Rick Santorum and Ron Paul also do not have official accounts. The official Gingrich account has a mere 46 followers and includes a selection of campaign trail photos along with a #250Gas board (left), referencing the Twitter hashtag the campaign has perpetuated to support the former House Speaker's claims that under his presidency, people would pay $2.50 for a gallon of gasoline. The collection includes photos from a campaign stop at a gas station with close-ups of gas prices and shots of Gingrich looking somewhat out of place pumping gas in a suit and tie.
Despite Ann Romney's apparent Pinterest success, the other female candidate counterparts are not there with official presences.
"Callista is on a lot of other social media, I would think Pinterest would be a natural place for her to expand her online reach to," said Vincent Harris, digital consultant for the Gingrich campaign.
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Kate Kaye was Managing Editor at ClickZ News until October 2012. As a daily reporter and editor for the original news source, she covered beats including digital political campaigns and government regulation of the online ad industry. Kate is the author of Campaign '08: A Turning Point for Digital Media, the only book focused on the paid digital media efforts of the 2008 presidential campaigns. Kate created ClickZ's Politics & Advocacy section, and is the primary contributor to the one-of-a-kind section. She began reporting on the interactive ad industry in 1999 and has spoken at several events and in interviews for television, radio, print, and digital media outlets. You can follow Kate on Twitter at @LowbrowKate.
March 19, 2014