Viral campaigning creates Super Tuesday buzz

Had Barack Obama’s campaign staff known that the Black-Eyed Peas’ would be posting his ode to Obama online last Saturday, they probably could’ve pulled the Super Bowl ad that ran in 24 states the next day.

The hit video, which has garnered more than 1.7 million YouTube views since Saturday, has the same value as the $250,000 Super Bowl ad, said Blois Olson, a Hopkins expert in political media relations. (The original version, in a larger format, is available here.) The former, of course, didn’t cost Obama a penny.

About 30 famous musicians and actors participated in the black-and-white video created in a professional Los Angeles recording studio. As Obama’s New Hampshire primary speech plays on one side of a split screen, alternating celebrities sing the same words to a guitar melody. High-profile participants include Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Scarlett Johansson, Tatyana Ali, Kate Walsh, Nick Cannon, Kelly Hu, Common and John Legend.

It worked like a charm when Justin Anderson, a 24-year-old nurse from Minneapolis, first viewed it. “I got goose bumps,” he said. “And it was unsolicited! It had nothing to do with his campaign. A bunch of artists just got together and said, ‘There’s something here.’ That makes it more powerful: It wasn’t meant to be political propaganda. It’s very grass-roots – but a legitimate form of grass-roots.”

Viral marketing remaking presidential campaigns
This presidential campaign has been radically remade by viral marketing bumping up alongside traditional TV and radio ads. Though they don’t replace tried-and-true campaigning methods, Olson said, online creations are a unique and significant addition to a political war chest. They’re free, and they create a special kind of momentum, ignited by YouTube’s rapidly surging “views” tally. The biggest beneficiary, hands down, has been Obama.

Seven months ago, a group called Barely Political created an elaborate three-minute video labeled “I got a crush … on Obama,” in which a scantily clad woman seduces the junior senator, singing, “You can Barack me tonight.” It has elicited 5.8 million YouTube views. Barely Political posted an Iowa version last December, eliciting another 1.7 million views.

Though no other candidate has enjoyed comparable free publicity, Ron Paul has gained considerable traction online. His YouTube channel claims 47,994 subscribers. It has garnered 6.8 million views, making it the “the 40th most popular YouTube Channel of all time!” the site boasts. (“All time,” of course, being limited to YouTube’s three-year existence.)

That may be the most remarkable dimension of these viral communities: Back when George W. Bush began his second term in office, YouTube didn’t even exist. But even then, sites like JibJab, with its satiric animated features, grabbed attention in the 2004 presidential race between Bush and John Kerry.

The impact of user-generated campaigning is not clear yet, but Obama’s showing tonight will hint at it. Online political creations appear to be breathing new life into the political process with their easy access, sentiment and hipness. When they lead viewers to informative sites and gatherings, such as tonight’s caucuses, the result is something our country hasn’t experienced in quite a while: voters with goose bumps and knowledge.

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Comments (1)

  1. Submitted by Christina Capecchi on 02/06/2008 - 08:44 am.

    Forgot to mention: There are also videos like this one, produced by Slate editors Andy Bowers and Bill Smee. Bearing the name of a well-known publication, it’s less grass roots, but like other viral creations, it comes from a third party and provides free publicity/perception shaping.

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