Thursday, July 17, 2008

Creative niche market campaigning

The Royal Canadian Kilted Yaksman points us towards Sean Tevis, an information architect from Kansas who is running for State Representative.

Tevis is one of a growing handful of politicians who have attempted to harness the internet to reach all the way down to the grassroots for support and funding. Some have been more successful than others, and some have been more well known than others. Here in North America the most familiar name would probably be Howard Dean, a former Governor of Vermont who made an unsuccessful bid for the Democratic nomination for U.S. President.

A campaign webpage fashioned in the style of popular webcombic xkcd has been making the rounds on the Internet. The response has been extremely positive. In fact, Tevis' webpage went down temporarily due to the webcomic generating too much traffic for his server to handle.

At first I was disappointed to see that the comic was not linked from anywhere on the main site. It made me feel like he was pretending to be a geek when in fact he's just another politician. It even seemed a little odd - the response to the comic has been so positive that perhaps not linking to it will lose him votes.

But the more I thought about it, the more I realized that this is a savvy move indeed. Your average voter will not relate to the comic, and this is in many ways a popularity contest. People who read the sites where the comic is being circulated are likely to get the comic, and relate to it. People who don't read the sorts of sites on which the comic has been posted probably wouldn't get the comic. They might even be alienated by it, not because of the issues, but because it's different. But those people don't read those sites, so they won't see it.

I think that Tevis is the real thing. But with niche advertising, there's always the danger of duplicity. Obviously a clever campaign manager could advertise in any number of niche forums or publications, tailoring the advertisement's presentation according to the niche even when the niche has nothing to do with the politician who is campaigning. The question is, would we buy it?

If Stephen Harper's next campaign tried to present him in this way, we might giggle, and think that his campaign manager was clever, but I doubt any of us could be persuaded to believe that Harper is a closet Internet geek.

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