The Uselessness of Political Attack Web Sites
June 16, 2013
This post has been re-posted from Armadillo’s President’s personal web site as it touches upon a subject that we’re currently very interested in. We hope you enjoy this post and if you have any questions feel free to contact us at any time.
Once again the Canadian Political world has been confronted with the always comical debate surrounding Political Ads. The recent spat over the infamous _In Over His Head_ Justin Trudeau spots and the nitty gritty provincial “battle in British Columbia”:http://blogs.canoe.ca/davidakin/bc-politics/bc-liberal-candidates-star-in-hard-hitting-anti-dix-attack-ad/ have resurrected this timeless argument. And yes, if you asked most Canadians they would tell you with no uncertainty that they despise this level of political dialogue, while secretly not wanting to admit that these tactics _can_ work like a charm. But low and behold, there is a new form of Political Attacks Ads that has quietly surfaced that is even more pathetic and lame.
That of course is the world of the dreadful _Political Attack Web Site_.
Yes, we are all familiar with the more polished older brother TV version and there is so much “discussion revolving”:http://fullcomment.nationalpost.com/2013/04/20/rex-for-saturday/ around “the topic”:http://fullcomment.nationalpost.com/2013/04/17/andrew-coyne-3/ that I won’t get into too much detail rehashing those talking points. _But_ to reinforce my point about the uselessness of Political Attack Web sites I do have to explain why the TV ads work so well.
The television attack ads mainly work because of two basic concepts. The first is pretty simple – TV ads in general are something that is forced upon a viewer rather than something one seeks out. As any hockey fan of the past couple of weeks can attest too, The Conservative Party of Canada have flooded the NHL Playoffs with the infamous Justin commercials. And yes, make no mistake that this is completely calculated and designed to hammer home a “highly tested message to a captive audience of about a million plus Canadians every night”:http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/story/2013/04/26/pol-cp-trudeau-attack-ads-masculinity.html. And if we’re being honest with ourselves, no matter how annoying or pathetic a political attack ad is, the average Canadian won’t bother changing the channel to ignore it. Truth be told most people would rather sit through the 30 second spot rather than chance missing one of Glenn Healy’s insane ramblings. So in regards to investment, they are about as effective as it gets for one’s political campaign dollars.
Second, as much as people hate the concept, attack ads do an effective job of laying down the ground work for a subconscious theme against one’s opponent. Mr. Ignatiff, Mr. Dion, Mr. Mulclair and more recently British Columbia’s Adrian Dix can attest to how much a theme, whether correct or not, repeated over and over again through TV ads can slowly degrade the casual voter’s viewpoint of a candidate. As a side note, I bet you within a year, Trudeau’s biggest misconception will be that he’s too young, regardless of the fact that by 2015 he’ll be the exact same age that Mr. Harper was when elected head of the Conservatives. But I digress.
So Why Are Political Attack Web Sites So Useless?
With those two key attributes in mind lets look at the main weaknesses of the political attack web site.
First, regardless of what social media experts and middle aged entrepreneurs want you to believe, a web site is something that you can’t force people to see. No matter how many times a site is retweeted, posted to Facebook or you print out a QR Code, a web site will only draw interest from a user who wants to read that information. So attracting a non-partisan viewer is going to be nearly impossible, well, unless you pretend it’s a cute cat site. Don’t get me wrong these site do get hits, but if we’re being honest with ourselves they usually come from partisan party faithful or the opposition looking to see what’s being said about their candidate or party. The average casual voter isn’t going to be interested in seeking out this information unless it is of interest to their daily lives.
Second and this is a key one, the average person does not enjoy reading negative web sites. I know, a shocking concept. But ask yourself this: when was the last time you bookmarked a negative political attack web site or subscribed to the RSS feed? Think about it for a second. Probably never. And why would you? How does a negative political web site benefit the average viewer’s daily routine? If we were to look at the return rate of a Political Attack web site, I’m confident the return visitor rates would be embarrassingly low. These sites are not developed to foster an active community or even contain dynamic content, most are built as one off standalone sites to either compliment or initiate a conversation… and most can’t even achieve these simple goals.
Lastly, most of the sites are so crudely designed and developed that they probably do more harm than good. As viewers, it’s well known that our opinions are largely based on first impressions. So imagine taking a negative theme and spin it into a positive experience in the three to four seconds that a viewer takes to lay judgement on a web site. It is an impossible task. Take this classic “shadow cabinet NDP”:http://www.mulcairsndp.ca/get-to-know-mulcairs-ndp-shadow-cabinet/ website or better yet the accompanying “In over his head” web site. With their big scary fonts and over the top photoshop skillz are you convinced of the evil nature of their targets or are you turned off by how much time and effort was put into such a negative campaign? If you were already a partisan hardliner you’ll probably agree with the content and are already lovin’ it like McDonalds, but for anyone the effects are minimum at best. In fact if you’ve ever voted for the liberals or NDP you probably have a visceral reaction to the concept and the childish nature of the sites.
Well, Are There Redeeming Qualities in a Political Micro Site
Okay, now that I’ve spent a good chunk of time ripping into the uselessness of these sites, the question becomes can Political Attack web sites serve a better purpose? _Better yet_, is there an effective variation that is actually a positive and engaging experience? The answer to that is yes.
A micro site for a Political Party or Candidate which focuses on a positive concept or is able to tell an engaging story is really an effective campaign tool, _but_ the key element is that it has to be a positive experience rather than a negative one. I’ve used this example numerous times in blog posts, but the Kathleen Wynne *Way Forward* micro site from the 2013 Ontario Leadership campaign is a great example of this. (It has since transitioned “into a full web site”:http://engage.ontarioliberal.ca/)
The amount of work involved in creating a site similar to the handful that Wynne’s team have produced, are about equal to or less than the previously mentioned web sites, _but_ the viewer experiences are literally night and day. One bombards you with the dirt and negativity of politics, while the other instills a sense of excitement, progressiveness and change. And of the two sets of examples, Wynne’s collection of sites are far more likely to leave a positive sentiment with the user.
So you may be asking, why even bring this up?
Simple. With the advent of robust and easy to use tools such as “WordPress”:http://themeforest.net/category/wordpress/nonprofit/political, “Tumblr”:http://thepoliticalnotebook.com/post/4391640305/your-tumblr-theme-is-the-best-ive-seen-and-i-want-to or “even NationBuilder”:http://nationbuilder.com/, it has become incredibly easy for anyone to build a web site – especially a political one. We know this as a fact, but just because it’s easy to build a gaudy attack site doesn’t mean that you should.
Yes, politics is a dirty game, but there becomes a point when the minor benefits of negativity outweigh the positives. With the upcoming civic elections in Alberta just around the corner the temptation to draw attention to a candidate by investing in one of these feeble sites is there, but hopefully I’ve shown that there are better ways. If recent events prove anything it’s that the general patience for negativity in politics is diminishing within Canada. Voters are looking to see the positive side of our political leaders. So in a round about way, my advise to aspiring candidates and campaigns is to *ignore the Political Attack web sites and do something different, unique and creative*.