I kind of like republican Presidential candidate John McCain — as a person. He seemed to have great personal integrity until last week, when his campaign started running attack ads against his Democratic opponent, Barack Obama.

Unfortunately for him, this ill-advised manoeuvre seems to have been engineered by a bunch of old dinosaurs who are completely out of touch with the reality of the Internet. I guess nobody told them that big television advertising dollars no longer get you exclusive access to the attention of the populace. Oops.

The McCain ads sandwiched Obama’s image with those of Britney Spears and Paris Hilton, deriding him as a mere celebrity, not ready to lead. I’ve always maintained that Ms. Hilton plays her public image as a lot dumber than she really is (don’t get me wrong, I’m not giving her Rhodes Scholar either), and this week Paris Hilton shot back at the use of her image in that ad.

Analysts have said that the main advantage of the McCain ads were that they got widespread news coverage, and that having segments of them lead the news gave them huge extra exposure at no cost. Unfortunately for them, it looks like Hilton’s spoof, likely shot for a few tens of thousands of dollars and featuring McCain being referred to as “wrinkly white-haired guy”, is going to get almost as much exposure.

In general, I think attack ads are crass and desperate (particularly when run by a party that is in power outside an election, but that’s another post entirely), and it’s good to see them backfire. The only real downside of this parody is that there will probably be an embarrassingly large number of ballots filed in November with Paris Hilton as a write-in candidate.

To conclude, here’s the Internet 101 summary for anyone contemplating an attack ad:

In a wired world, be careful about where you lob the muck. It’s a lot easier to fight back than you think.