Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Illinois 11: Not an Ordinary Campaign Web Site

By Nathan L. Gonzales

Republican businessman Martin Ozinga’s first television ad in Illinois’ 11th district race isn’t particularly exciting news, but his campaign is trying to leverage a unique Web site to attract curious or skeptical voters who may be disillusioned with the political process.

The 30-second bio ad, which is running on cable stations in a majority of the 11th district, directs people to Iamnotapolitician.com, instead of Ozinga’s regular campaign Web site.

At Iamnotapolitician.com, viewers are greeted with a simple and stark red page with “I am not a politician” written across the page in white capital letters. Then, a 90-second introductory video, which is different than the television ad, automatically pops up and introduces Ozinga through testimonials.

After the video concludes, the phrase “I am ... committed” appears, referencing the themes of the video, and visitors can either replay the video, e-mail it to a friend or “Learn More,” which takes them to the official campaign Web site.

The Web site and theme is meant to contrast Ozinga’s biography with that of his opponent, state Senate Majority Leader Debbie Halvorson (D). But Ozinga got into the race late after the GOP nominee dropped out and is battling to hold the open seat being vacated by Rep. Jerry Weller (R).

Ozinga’s supporters got the idea for the Web site in early April and bought the domain name for $30. Iamnotapolitician.com made its official debut April 30, when the URL was emblazoned across a giant red banner behind Ozinga during his announcement speech. The campaign subsequently had road signs with the Web address and placed inexpensive banner ads on the Web sites of the daily newspapers in the district to drive people to the site.

Though the tactic is unique, it’s not without some glitches. First, the video takes a long time to load, even on a high-speed connection. And second, the Web site doesn’t offer an initial way to capture valuable information, such as e-mail addresses of visitors, that campaigns covet these days.

Overall, Republican Internet consultant David All panned it. “It’s a clever URL, but how far is that going to get you?”

“It’s a good way to introduce Marty in a simple, but powerful way,” Ozinga campaign manager Andy Sere said. “It’s a practical thing we can use to drive a message.”

This item first appeared on RollCall.com on July 10, 2008. 2008 © Roll Call Inc. All rights reserved. Reprinted with permission.