Sunday, November 2, 2008

Joe "the Internet Meme" Wurzelbacher

Presidential candidates consistently try to connect with voters by telling stories about "ordinary Americans." In our current election the McCain campaign has found a way to connect with voters by doing the opposite. They've asked "ordinary Americans" to tell stories about themselves so they will connect with the presidential candidate.

This all began in the third presidential debate, which took place two weeks ago on Wednesday, October 15th 2008 where Joe "the Plumber" Wurzelbacher was turned into a household name. Presidential candidate John McCain attacked Barack Obama's tax plan by highlighting a conversation Obama had with "Joe the Plumber." Joe became something of a touchstone during the debate and by the time it was over "Joe" had been mentioned about a dozen times.

Joe the Plumber's story resonated with some voters. Seeing this interest the McCain campaign made it an integral part of their strategy. They began using Joe the Plumber in the stump speeches of Senator McCain and Governor Palin. The idea was expanded into a theme and they began telling the stories of every "[FIRST NAME] the [OCCUPATION]" you could think of.

In a flash of genius the campaign turned Joe's story into an internet meme by asking supporters to make a video in which they explain how they too are "Joe the Plumber." The McCain campaign encouraged participation by announcing that they would produce a television commercial featuring the "I am Joe" videos. Participants were asked to send the link to their video at the John McCain web site.

Here is the resulting commercial:

YouTube: I Am Joe

Additionally the campaign featured some of their favorite videos on the John McCain web site. My personal favorite is "Joe the Magician".

Joe The Magician

In his book Designing for the Social Web Joshua Porter discusses using "authentic conversation" as a way to engage with customers. He writes "Conversation - at least the act of initiating it - only amplifies the existing sentiment." In an election where John McCain was (and is) down in the polls, and where he needed to amplify an existing sentiment (regarding Obama's tax plan) he hit upon an effective digital strategy to get his word out.

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