April 13, 2024

Remixing Politics

Somebody over at the Bush-Cheney campaign had better figure out this Internet thingy pretty soon, or it’s going to be a long, unpleasant online campaign for them.

The first evidence of the campaign’s Net-cluelessness was the Bush-Cheney poster generator that came to be called “The Sloganator”. This was a web tool, on the campaign’s site, that let you create a Bush-Cheney campaign poster containing the slogan of your choice. On hearing about this, any Net-savvy person knew exactly what would happen next. Opponents would discover the site and create posters with disparaging slogans. Contests would be held, to see who could make the funniest poster. And the whole episode would be commemorated with an online slide show.

This week brings another “what were they thinking” moment, as the Bush campaign contemplates buying pop-up ads on websites. This would be a clever idea – if the ads said “Vote for Kerry”. It’s hard to think of a better way to alienate the Net community than to associate your cause with something as universally despised as popup ads. And the mistake of running popup ads would be compounded by the inevitable response, as people all over the Net started attaching spoofed popup ads to their own sites.

Bradley Rhodes at DocBug predicts more of this sort of thing, as the remix culture collides with politics. The MoveOn homebrew ads are only the beginning. Expect to see agenda-laden Flash games, spoofed websites and commercials, George Bush verbal blooper tapes, videos of John Kerry debating himself, and nasty-funny creations of all types, from supporters of both sides (or all three, if you count Nader). It looks like we’re in for an entertaining campaign.


  1. Mike: “You seem to think increasing print advertising would have solved all that ailed the campaign.”

    Not at all. I just think that print communicates a message better than quick soundbites, which are all that can be stuffed into a 30 second television commercial. Would you say a little diversification in advertising couldn’t have made a difference?

  2. Yikes. Watch the teeth, people.

  3. So Jason, just to be clear: are you saying the Dean campaign strategy was amateurish or are you accusing Joe Trippi of thievery — or both? Since your facts are wrong, though, I have to assume your conclusions are flawed as well.

    As Sooz pointed out, the firm of Trippi, McMahon & Squire had been media consultants for Dean during his entire tenure as the Governor of Vermont. Trippi did not draw a salary during his time as campaign manager, but his firm did earn a 7% commission on ad buys — not the 15% you stated, and the lowest rate possible without raising eyebrows at the FEC.

    You seem to think increasing print advertising would have solved all that ailed the campaign. I’m curious where you came up with that idea, and what experience you have with print advertising swinging primary elections. The reality is that television advertising is still very important for communicating with voters, and will continue to be even as the internet matures.

    The reality is that the deck has always been stacked against insurgent/outsider candidates, and that recent changes to the primary system put even more barriers in the way. The front-loaded voting schedule made it extremely important that a non-establishment candidate get himself in front of voters, and that was an extremely expensive proposition.

    The strategy was to make an early splash in Iowa, take New Hampshire and then use that momentum to overwhelm the competition, taking advantage of the schedule to effectively run away with the nomination. You can argue the quality of the ads and their effectiveness as much as you want, but you cannot deny that the strategy worked — it just worked for a different candidate.

  4. “Amazingly enough” your facts aren’t quite right, Jason. 🙁 Trippi’s “own firm” had been working for Governor Dean on his Vermont campaign for years. Had Trippi gone to the Bahamas during the Dean campaign, he still would have made commission as one of 3 partners of the firm. He wrote up a statement regarding this issue at http://changeforamerica.com/blog/archives/000015.html.

  5. Rip Mix Burn The Election

    The Sloganator. The sloganator appeared a few weeks ago when Bush Cheney ’04 decided to put a slogan/poster maker online. Oh thank you we said! Of course, we immediately made posters and then they took it down. No sense of…

  6. Dean’s biggest problem (though by no means the only one) was a kindergarten campaign strategy: let’s spend all our money on TV right now! With his momentum, and all the press coverage he was getting as the “frontrunner,” he didn’t need to advertise on television as heavily as Trippi suggested. Amazingly enough, Trippi took home 15% commissions on the ads – which were produced by Trippi’s own firm. Hmmm. More newspaper and magazine advertising probably would have been a better (and cheaper) way to reach people with his message, which was by far the most powerful part of his campaign, but it seems print just wasn’t technologically advanced enough for the Internet Candidate(TM).

  7. Blowing lots of money on ultimately ineffective campaign tactics is not different this time 🙁

    Thinks of horses before zebras.

    [The real part was cheaper fundraising – but that is not at all unique to Dean, and as we saw, easy to squander for very classic reasons]

  8. “Expect to see agenda-laden Flash games…”

    That’s for sure. See, e.g.:

  9. Seth,
    I don’t think the final analysis is in on the Dean campaign yet. My own $0.02 is that perhaps Dean went too far too quickly… His internet fundraising totals and statistics certainly indicated that things *were different this time*. His flash mobs of volunteers showing up in Iowa *were different this time*. The poll turnout was much higher than previous elections as well, indicating that things had changed this time.

    The problem for Dean was twofold: his volunteers had energy but lacked experience in the political process (apparently they got rolled in the Iowa caucus procedure), and his supports had so much energy that it “scared the straights”.

    I think Howard did show the strategy, but tactically he raced ahead of what his supply lines (i.e. the average U.S. voter) could deliver.

  10. But some things are different this year.

    It’s-different-THIS-time is a phrase which always causes me to see big red flags (and it doesn’t matter if they’re Flash-enabled Photoshop-enhanced WiFi-distributed 0xFF0000 bitfield structs, it’s still a red flag).

    More seriously, I think a primary focus on technological means as if it were a primary creator, rather than a very small factor in overall political expression, can lead to extremely inaccurate tactical estimations.

    President Howard Dean agrees.

    That is, there will certainly be higher production value pranks. Whether these are *better* pranks or *more effective* pranks is not at all clear.

  11. Remix, Reuse and Vote

    Edward Felten on his Freedom to Tinker blog writes that this may be the year “remix culture collides with politics” (Remixing Politics): Expect to see agenda-laden Flash games, spoofed websites and commercials, George Bush verbal blooper tapes, videos …

  12. Sure, this stuff isn’t all new. But some things are different this year:

    (1) It’s cheaper and easier than ever before to create rich media content, so many more people are doing it.

    (2) It’s cheaper and easier than ever before to distribute the content once it’s made.

    (3) Because of hyperlinking and Internet word-of-mouth, it’s easier for a really funny piece of content to get widespread attention, even if it’s made by an ordinary person.

    (4) Because of (1),(2), and (3), along with the campaigns’ expanded online and media presences, would-be remixers have more raw material to work with.

  13. By the way, there’s been parody websites for years.


    (pretty funny too!)

  14. Wince. Please, let’s not go down the path of thinking the Internet created pranking.


    “Dick Tuck – An enterprising Democrat. During the 1968 US Presidential
    campaign, the Nixon camp used the slogan “Nixon’s the One”. Tuck (glorying in
    the name of Dick, no namby-pambying Richard for him!) arranged groups of
    pregnant women to hold placards with the Republican slogan at various airports
    when Nixon arrived. This rankled the Nixonians so much that they sought to
    use it several years later as an example of Democrats’ dirty tricks and some
    sort of moral equivalent of Watergate.”

  15. Here’s a pretty good home-brew Bush ad: