Donald Trump has emerged as the Republican nominee in the US presidential race and Hillary Clinton is almost there with the Democratic National Convention to be held this month. Amongst the drama of a spirited and polarising race, what's there to learn about protecting and promoting your reputation online? Is there, by any chance, a correlation between the savvy acquisition of relevant domain names, and success?
Particularly since Barack Obama's groundbreaking campaign in 2008, a strong digital strategy is considered integral to successful political campaigning -- in the US, and around the world. From building awareness through social media to collecting donations through a campaign website, the internet offers myriad opportunities to influence voters and build support.
The humble domain name is a small but significant ingredient in this. It's both a signpost to a candidate's home on the web, and an element of their online brand. At Nominet we have been looking with interest across the Atlantic at all this high-profile domain name related activity, and we think it's high time for a round-up of candidates' domain name strategies. Or lack thereof: the failure of some to secure relevant domains is well documented. So, in no particular order, here are the best/worst (depending on your perspective) domain name antics from the US presidential primaries.
Early Republican favourite Jeb Bush, who bowed out of the race in February, didn't manage to obtain JebBush.com, which for a while redirected to Trump's campaign website. He also failed to register JebBushforPresident.com and JebBushforPresident.net, both of which were used to say unflattering things about the candidate. According to the Washington Post, the former is run by "a bearded gay couple who have been 'madly in love' since 1996", to criticise Bush's position on LGBTQ issues.
Republican runner-up Ted Cruz probably wished he had purchased TedCruzforAmerica.com, a domain with a storied history. First, it redirected to the website for the Affordable Care Act (known as Obamacare, against which Cruz once led a government shutdown). Next, it redirected to the Canadian Government's immigration page. It's currently being used to peddle a dating service called 'Maple Match', which "makes it easy for Americans to find the ideal Canadian partner to save them from the unfathomable horror of a Trump presidency."
Another former Republican contender, Carly Fiorina, suffered a similar experience. Visiting CarlyFiorina.org brought you to a page that read, "Carly Fiorina failed to register this domain. So I'm using it to tell you how many people she laid off at Hewlett-Packard"... via 30,000 'sad face' emoticons, which apparently take four and a half minutes to scroll through. This inspired its own hashtag -- '#domaingate'. But Fiorina fired back at media labelling it a "major gaffe" on the part of her campaign, telling reporters to check HillaryClinton.net, which had mysteriously begun redirecting to Fiorina's official campaign website. It now redirects to Donald Trump's campaign website, as does PresidentSanders.com.
Trump himself purchased up to 3,000 domain names, in an effort to stop people discrediting him online. If you're running for president (or launching a business, product, campaign, or blog), it is a good idea to secure the most relevant domains before someone else does. But bulk-buying domain names in an effort to prevent criticism is perhaps going a bit far. It's impossible to cover all possible options, and Trump's strategy seems simply to have encouraged his detractors to get a bit more creative.
For example, comedian John Oliver started a campaign to "Make Donald Drumpf again", arguing that the name 'Trump' has a mystique not present in his original family name of 'Drumpf', and using the website donaldjdrumpf.com, complete with a browser plugin to change every instance of the word 'Trump' to 'Drumpf'. Another example (perhaps not so creative, but emphatic nonetheless): loser.com currently redirects to the 'Donald Trump' page on Wikipedia. As the unfortunate creators of an online poll to rename a £200m polar research ship will tell you, you can't predict what will happen on the internet.