WWW Smackdown: Political Primaries Online, Part 2

This campaign season the candidates for U.S. President have taken their campaigns to the Internet like never before. From online fundraising to schmoozing with the digerati (a.k.a. the talkaloti), the candidates – or at least their campaign managers – have recognized you can’t run for President without an online presence. What can we learn from their strategies and tactics?

Last week we reviewed the web sites of presidential hopefuls Republican John McCain and Democrat Bill Bradley. This week we look at Vice President Al Gore’s and Texas Governor George W. Bush’s sites.

Blood and Gore 2000

Gore, the self-described inventor of the Internet (who could live that one down?), has faced such tough questions as “PC or Mac?” in his town hall meetings. As a stall for time while he came up with the most palatable response, Gore said, “That’s sort of a boxers-versus-briefs question, isn’t it?” in reference to President Clinton’s interview on MTV regarding his underwear preference.

But if you go to Gore2000.com you don’t get the official Gore campaign site. Instead you get a political campaign paraphernalia store selling cheesy blue stuffed “Demi” donkeys, T-shirts that read “Read My Lips: No New Texans,” and coffee beans with the label “Gore-May Coffee.”

For the official site, you have to visit AlGore2000.com, where you can learn about Gore and his positions on issues. For a guy who has positioned himself as the hip Veep-slash-geek, his site lacks any differentiation from the others. Same dark blue color. Same pull-down menus of issues similar to McCain’s site, except Gore’s didn’t work when we tried them.

His wife Tipper has her own link that leads to a nice letter and a gallery of photos but little substance (not even a Dead Kennedys’ album cover from her PMRC days). The wives are taking significant backseats so far, possibly waiting until after the national nominations before being officially recognized as working as hard as the candidates themselves.

You can watch one of Gore’s assorted television ads. Why would anyone but the most politically obsessed want to download a video file of a commercial we’ll all be bombarded with in the coming months? Did McDonald’s learn from this mistake from their first foray onto AOL almost a decade ago?

We searched the site for references to the Internet. We came up with numerous references, including an Internet guide for families and the transcript of a town hall meeting in which he described his policy regarding Internet sales tax. (Answer: We don’t know! Read the transcript and see if you can find it!)

Lessons: If you’re going to rub elbows with the talkaloti and position yourself as an Internet know-it-all, then your site had better demonstrate your alleged know-how and innovation. Second, answer the question!

This Is Not Your Father’s George Bush

The George W. Bush campaign sniffs at the fundraising efforts of his chief competitor. The campaign’s webmaster suggested they’re purposely not trying to raise money on the site, that the Internet’s purpose should be to educate voters.

Apparently Governor Bush, whose campaign proudly announced coffers nearing $18 million early in the season, wants to avoid sullying his web site with too much fundraising. That didn’t stop them from adding the “make a donation” interstitial, though.

The site’s home page lists a series of “results” this self-described reformer achieved as governor of Texas. Unfortunately, there are no links to any evidence of such reforms or claims. A user either has to take his word for it, assume it’s more campaign rhetoric, or conduct an independent search to verify the claims.

But by far, our favorite feature of the Bush site is the “Bush Tax Calculator” where you can determine how much money you’d save if only he were president. When Emily – single, no kids and a relatively comfortable income given the national average – put in her information, she came up with a savings of $1,791. But pretend you’re a single mother of four making only $26,000 and you get zero.

Lessons: If you make a claim, back it up. It’s too easy to find contradictory information online so make it easy for your users to find supporting evidence.

Everything You Wanted to Ask About George Bush But Were Afraid to Know

If you were one of those who complained that the 30-second television ads cheapened the electoral process, take heart. These sites provide users with extensive information about each of the candidates and their positions on issues that may matter to you. Additionally, numerous political and grass roots sites provide counterpoints for consideration. If voters are not educated, it’s not for lack of available information.

From a marketing standpoint, the political web sites have not done a very good job of differentiating their candidates. The look and feel of the four official sites are almost duplicated from one to the other – from architecture to colors. Finally, it’s too early in this presidential campaign and the phenomenon of online politicking is itself too new for any rules to have been made or broken.

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