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Op-Ed: Obama Vs. Romney: Who Wins…In Terms of Websites, That Is

And so, our regular op-ed series continues, this time with a contribution from John Paolini, executive creative director at branding firm Sullivan. With Election Day coming shortly, why not take a look at the respective sites of the presidential nominees, from a designer’s POV that is. Take it away, sir. 

If you haven’t noticed, the official campaign websites for the presidential hopefuls look a lot different than they did six months ago.

Last spring, Barack Obama’s and Mitt Romney’s sites were hard to tell apart. Both employed many of the same structural and design elements: There was lots of dark blue in the banners that framed up and merchandised their very patriotic logos. The navigation was more decorative than substantive. The content, whether written or image-based, did little to engage, let alone persuade. The net result was two sites largely focused on packaging and not much on positioning.

Fast-forward to today and you have two very different online experiences. The most dramatic evolution has taken place on Mitt Romney’s site: whereas it once relied on graphic elements for emotional connection, it now has a sweeping invitation to “come fly with me.” And I can’t help feeling Romney is suggesting something more than a trip on his plane.

Romney’s language is clear: join him and succeed. His navigation also supports the idea of success. Where there was once a set of decorative buttons there is now a corporate-feeling tab structure driving you deeper. His donation module is clear and unapologetic in placement, and language such as “victory wallet” all point to a clear narrative. The gift shop is a call to “gear up!” Read: if you vote for Mitt, you are buying success! Romney’s story line is clear: get on board with Mitt and you will succeed.

The Obama site has evolved as well. While Mitt’s site is a super-charged product experience designed with a top-down perspective, the Obama site is equally rousing from the bottom up; it’s a grassroots rallying cry that focuses on “we”. The written and image-based content has taken on an intimate feeling, which manifests itself in the Instagram-style photography, suggesting a sense of historic record. The language is also simple and straightforward: “get the facts, get the latest, get involved.” As you move deeper into the site, the “we” narrative extends to all types of groups and issues: Obama herein shares his success with each of his supporters. At this level, the site design lets go of its graphic identity and allows the individual group pages to have unique graphic badges and image styles. On a subtler note, the notion of forward is amplified by the use of backwards as a device to call out Romney’s position on various issues.

Overall, what is fascinating is how the past and present websites illustrate and record the progression of this election. These websites have become more than a merchandised expression of the campaign. As digital platforms, they are the living embodiment of the candidates’ evolving positions and how the cultural narratives that surround Romney and Obama have driven them to respond instantly and iteratively to the changing conversation.

 

 

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