Mitt Romney, Internet buzzkill: Why you won’t click on this article

Virginia Heffernan, Yahoo News
National Correspondent
Yahoo! News

[NAME REDACTED]: The kiss-of-death topic on the Web.

Political websites that are inundated with traffic right now ought to consider an astoundingly effective app for turning readers away. It’s free. It’s the phrase “Mitt Romney.”

Put that buzzkill phrase in a headline and watch readers scram.

That’s according to Buzzfeed, the site that chronicles the vagaries of the viral web, where the news of the Romney reader curse was first reported. Many editors have shared their disappointment with the appetite for Romney stories, but Buzzfeed conducted an actual experiment.

The site ran two sets of posts about the early lives of President Obama and Mitt Romney, and promoted them in the same way. One was about their childhoods; the other showed them as young men. The Obama posts attracted vastly more attention, with more than 130,000 views in total. The Romney posts drew fewer than 20,000.

Even what Buzzfeed called “dreamy pictures” of Romney drew ho-hum numbers.  Online readers simply don’t click on stories about Mitt Romney. They don’t click on images of Mitt Romney. And they don’t look at ads affixed to stories and images of Mitt Romney.

Chances are, in fact, that your eyes didn’t even take in the paragraph above this one because you were averting your eyes from the enervating name. Now: Adderall, Johnny Depp Divorce, Rihanna, Barack Obama. See, you’re back into reading.

Romney’s name should have the makings of decent traffic bait. He’s divisive, kind of. He’s handsome. And he’s a Mormon. The Web usually loves Mormonibilia. And, for the Angel Moroni’s sake, Mitt Romney might be the president of the United States one day! What’s not to read about?

For my money, Romney has one major shortcoming. He’s not Sarah Palin. Matt Lewis, who blogs at The Daily Caller, told Buzzfeed that he misses the last election, "when merely mentioning the name Sarah Palin would give you an automatic spike in both traffic and buzz.”

Romney—by being white and male and that indeterminate white-makeuppy-male TV age—just doesn’t bring the leers and innuendo and you-go-girlism and scrutiny generated by all manner of Palin ephemera. Where Palin obsessives back in the day pored over historic photos of her body in an effort to prove that she wasn’t the real mother of her son Trig (she is; I studied), no such forensic effort has been visited on Romney. And indeed it’s clear why: He looks the same in every picture. Where Palin seemed radioactive, Romney is like a noble gas.

Romney’s supporters are saying slow and steady wins the race. That no one wants a candidate who’s too exciting. Others are saying he’s a stiff with no charisma. That guys like him die on the Twitter vine.

I don’t know. But I do know how they solve this problem in the music business. They “feat.” other artists—that is, they “feature them,” asking them to make guest appearances with them on records or TV shows. Norah Jones has a whole 2010 record called “Featuring Norah Jones,” which contains singles of her collaborations with everyone from the Foo Fighters to OutKast to Q-Tip to Ray Charles. It attracts listeners that might not want pure Jones.

This is something Romney should look into. Maybe he should choose a real marquee running mate, and his bill could be Romney feat. Palin. Or just Romney feat. Q-Tip.

After all, I did click on a “Mitt Romney” link recently. The story was Mitt Romney feat. Britney Spears, about how the pair have the same $50,000 car elevator. “Mitt and Brit,” the article called them. I like the sound of that.