Just as the Web now plays host to once-inaccessible CRM software applications and numerous online business activities, it also hosts another, more long-standing American fixture: the presidential campaign. From fundraising to organizing to mass marketing to an actual online primary in Arizona, Web sites now affordably host many activities formerly laboriously accomplished through precinct walks, mass mailings and hundreds of hours of telephone work.
At the center of this new style of "e-campaigning" are two now famous--some might say infamous--Web sites, built and maintained for the single purpose of making you feel good about the sites' respective owners. The sites are those of the two big attention grabbers this season, George W. Bush (www.georgewbush.com) and Albert Gore (www.algore2000.com). Each site was developed with input and oversight from its owner. Consequently, each site is a reflection of the candidate, and to the trained eye, a reflection of the man himself.
According to Greg Sedberry, e-campaign manager for George W. Bush for President, georgewbush.com was "created to disseminate the governor's message. It provides voters with access 24 hours a day, seven days a week."
The first message users actually "access" after logging on is a request for money featuring the candidate's head in a small window on the home page. Make no mistake, every political Web site asks for money, but most have the contribution function hidden tastefully behind a link button. However, this design seems to work well: At this writing, the site had generated $1.6 million in online contributions from users (Bush's offline fundraising efforts were a bit more successful--$80 million at this writing, with no request for federal matching funds needed).
Beyond the donation window lies a well organized, if predictable site featuring standard tool bars for easy navigation. The colors are, of course, red, white and blue, and pictures of Bush abound--Bush with children, Bush with workers, Bush with more children. The actual information disseminated includes biographical info, messages, speeches, organizational opportunities and audio/video streaming, which was designed by Yahoo! The site also features a nifty little tax calculator to let users contemplate their post-tax cut wealth.
Of the major presidential sites, algore2000.com is by far the most focused, the most aggressive and the most rigidly professional. The purpose of the site, says Ben Green, the director of Internet Operations for Gore 2000, is vintage CRM--the site benefits voters by allowing them to establish a direct connection to the campaign. "Voters can go to the site and get info on what they are interested in," he says.
And yes, based on the information algore2000.com delivers, considerable thought went into establishing and maintaining that relationship with voters. There are sections devoted to every state in the country, and nine constituency outreach sections, with more on the way. "There is content directly relevant to your life," says Green. "If you are African-American, or if you are from California, or whatever, there is content there for you."
Green, like his pit-bull boss, also took a swipe at georgewbush.com by adding, "The Bush site is very bland compared to ours. It's got 'Here is a press release for your state' and things like that."
AlGore2000.com is easily navigable, with simple tool bars with titles like "The Agenda" or "Contribute" or even "Tipper Gore." Like the banner ads they are, the photographs in each of these sections refresh regularly so you don't see the same picture of Tipper speaking at the Super Tuesday Victory Celebration more than once every few minutes. Photographs of the V.P. are well chosen and politically calculated: Gore with business leaders, Gore with inner-city youth.