Online/Viral Component of Democrats’ Campaign against ABC’s “The Path to 9/11”

A lot of Democrats are up in arms about ABC’s upcoming miniseries, “The Path to 9/11” — an email I got from the Democratic Party described it as “a bald-faced attempt to slander Democrats and revise history right before Americans vote in a major election.” (Note to Ken Mehlman: don’t worry, I get your messages, too).

As part of the campaign, the party and allied groups are (naturally) trying to bombard the network with citizen emails, which gives me a lovely chance to make a couple of points about viral campaigns and influencing decision-makers.

First, viral spread is rare for an email. Things were different a few years ago, when email advocacy was relatively new, but unless they’ve been stingy with their email addresses, activists these days are buried under a slew of messages every week. It’s hard for any one of them get noticed, much less passed-along.

On this front, the Dems’ message about ABC stands out — I’ve already received forwarded copies along with heart-felt messages from several friends, which I can’t remember happening to this extent in quite a while. This campaign seems to have tapped into a real vein of frustration among Democrats/progressives, who tend to think that Republican officials have exploited 9/11 for political purposes, with the mainstream media’s abetting. This campaign could yield some real list-building opportunities as well as a chance to fire up the base in an election year.

So, let’s add sincere outrage to (fan-favorite) humor as one way to achieve viral spread for a campaign. Ah, but herein lies the rub — just about EVERY activist email relies on outrage. The trees are being cut down! The Democrats are sabotaging the war on terror! My shorts are too tight! By now, we’re all pretty much outraged-out. In this case, I’d say that what gives the campaign its chance for viral take-off is that it touches a (really) raw nerve and that it has an unfamiliar and quite juicy target — a high-profile corporation rather than a politician.

But will it change the network’s plans? I’ve argued before that corporations are better targets for email campaigns than are members of Congress, both because companies are very sensitive to the public perception of their brands and because they receive so many fewer emails than elected officials (we’ve managed to swamp Congress). But in this case, the network has no doubt put a lot of money into the show and has promoted it heavily, so this particular ship may be a bit hard to turn off course. The campaign is already succeeding in one sense, in that it’s firing up supporters and getting its message in the media, but I’m curious to see if it can achieve its actual stated goals.

Written by
Colin Delany
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