True story, though the names have been erased to protect the innocent.

During the first political campaign we worked on (which eventually led to the idea of Online Candidate), we built a campaign website for a friend of ours who was running for town supervisor. The site itself looked good (for a 2003 design), but it was also packed with position information and reference material. The domain name was featured on all the campaign signs. For anyone interested in the local race, the site did a great job promoting the candidates and pointing out the incumbent’s flaws.

Best of all, the site scared the heck out the incumbent!

Two weeks later, the incumbent rolls out his site. It’s a fancy flash-based site, thin on content. Half the pages said ‘under construction’. Overall, it wasn’t very good.

The developer’s signature was on the site, I could tell who created it. I knew the developer, and asked her about the job. She said that it had been a rush job, and the campaign had provided her with very little content. While I never found out how much she was paid to create the site, I could infer that the costs were substantial. Of course, our candidate’s site cost nothing since it had been an in-kind contribution.

So how was this an ‘arms race’?

Well, first, by simply having a website, the incumbent was scared into getting one of his own. They knew nothing about the web, paid plenty for the site, and the campaign had no way of updating the site themselves. Because of that, the site became outdated VERY quickly.

The money spent on that site was money that the incumbent could not spend on other advertising.

Because the incumbent promoted their website, and we promoted ours, web-savvy voters could check out both candidates online.

Forcing the incumbent to create a website cost them resources. As the campaign went along, we kept the website updated with the latest news and opinion. Because the opposition continually monitored the site, we could keep them off-balance as to our strategy. (For example, we would emphasize one position on the website, and then run a full-page newspaper ad on a different position – and then update the website while the ad ran.)

Needless to say, our online strategy helped keep the other side off-balance. It certainly wasn’t the only component of the campaign, but we made it a relevant component.

By the way, we ended up winning the election by a substantial margin! What ‘battles’ have you fought on the campaign trail?

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