Few people are fooled by the goal of political
advertisements. Like any ad, that of a political candidate
aims to convince you that he or she is the best “product,”
possessing everything you need while disassociating him or
herself from the undesirables associated with the
competitor. Twentieth-century political candidates could
predict and control voter impressions through targeted
information output. Airing on the heels of a laundry
detergent commercial or sitcom spot, political promotions
depended on the attention, if not interest, of a captive
Enter new media, the wave of the twenty-first century.
Gaining more momentum than predicted five years or even one
year ago, recent advances in Internet and communication
technologies have enabled the emergence of a diverse
ecosystem of interactive, participatory and personalizable
online media, such as search engines, online communities,
recommender systems, consumer review forums, social
networks, blogs, wikis, and other instances of what is
sometimes collectively referred to as “Web X.0” or “social
media.” New media has revolutionized the candidate/voter
relationship. Candidates are now able to reach previously
unattainable populations, and on the flip side, constituents
– whose only prior resonant contribution was a vote – are
now able to play an active role in the campaign process.
According to Chris Dellarocas, associate professor of
information systems at the Smith School, much of this can be
explained by what author Chris Anderson coined the “long
tail” theory, the idea that through the Internet a larger
variety of products are visible to us, thus shifting demand
to a broader subset of once obscure products.
“It used to be that political contributions were confined
to individuals and groups prepared to make considerable
donations,” says Dellarocas. “Thanks to the Internet,
constituents can now show their support with small
contributions. Supporters across age ranges, demographics
and financial levels can influence candidate selection. As a
result, a larger segment of the voter population is
contributing to election outcomes.”
Candidates’ images are being affected as well.
“Unpredictable, user-centered advertising is likely keeping
political candidates on their toes,” says Hank Boyd, Tyser
Teaching Fellow at the Smith School. “Messages can be easily
absorbed and quickly contested, removing the element of
control present when dealing with prior political
Is traditional advertising a thing of the past? Not
likely. But now there is more to see. New media has enabled
voters to take control of candidate selection and
agenda-setting. Today’s candidates need to stay alert
because intended messaging is likely to go off course.
Taking constituent feedback into account has become a
necessity for those bent on political success.
It is a voter’s election. Candidates: prepare and beware.