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 three 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. Two of these sites are currently up and running, harnessing every customer relationship management bell and whistle they can to create and maintain a strong political relationship with you, the voter. The third site--arguably the most successful of the three--now sits mothballed, its bells and whistles silent--for now.
The sites are, of course, those of the three big attention grabbers this season:
John McCain ( www.mccain2000.com), the rebel Arizona senator and closet moderate who used his "grassroots" Web site to raise $6.4 million, organize battalions of disaffected supporters and scare the bejesus out of right-wing Republicans.
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, gore2000.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.
Prior to early April, if you had gone to mccain2000.com, you would have seen what was reported in the press to be the most successful political Web site of all time. Though all that remains of this site is a polite message to supporters explaining McCain's decision to drop out of the race, this Web site was, last winter, the place to be online.
According to Max Fose, McCain's Internet Director, between February 1999 and March 2000, the campaign signed up 142,000 volunteers online. Furthermore, the campaign ultimately raised $6.4 million on the Net--a figure disputed by some within the Beltway--with 39 percent of donors saying they had never given to a campaign before.
The McCain campaign designed this site to reflect its candidate and his message of finance reform and grass roots activism. After consulting with the developers of Minnesota wrestler-turned-governor Jesse Ventura's site, the McCain design team created a site with comparable emotional appeal. It was all red, white and blue with pictures of a very earnest-looking John McCain talking to the common people of America, who, it would turn out, all had computers and were only too willing to donate their hourly wages to his effort online.
The design--heavy on both sentimentality and opportunities to contribute--was quite intentional. "We tried to make the site user friendly, and also offered four or five places to get involved and contribute. The look and feel was 'let's make a look that was not a traditional politician's site,'" says Fose.
The campaign pages that so effectively communicated McCain's dislike of the evil big money that strangles Washington are no longer accessible at the McCain campaign URL. However, the technological infrastructure that supports the site will, says Fose, be recycled into a site that supports McCain's political action committee, which will use the Web to raise big money to fight big money in Washington.