Democratizing political campaigns
The combined forces of the blogosphere and YouTube have had their impact on the U.S. political process. As Canada may well have at least three important elections this year (Quebec, Ontario and Federal), we can get some insight into what’s to come in the ad wars if we gaze just south of the border. It is hard for local campaign strategists to resist using the tools and techniques that have been successfully honed in the U.S. political arena. For decades, Canadian political operatives have attended U.S. nominating conventions and campaign schools, looking for the newest good ideas. For some reason, plagiarizing a campaign idea is a compliment, and no one is offended if you “modify” something they did in a campaign for your own candidate’s use. Unless you’re from “across the aisle”, of course.
Negative ads were imported long ago, and Canadians got a fresh reminder of that a few weeks ago with the Conservative Party’s take on new Liberal Leader Stephane (Joe Clark) Dion. For some reason, the dead tree media were taken aback by the “tough” theme of that series. While I might not have run the final “Not a Leader” slide – and let Iggy’s words tell Canadians how they should feel about Mr. Dion rather than a voiceover – the ads coincidentially(?) coincided with the immediate end of the Federal Liberal’s post-convention bump in the opinion polls.
As Allan Gregg says, you run negative ads “becuase they work”. In the ’97 federal campaign, I was involved as communications director with the Ontario team supporting Jean Charest on that federal campaign; we had great fun with a billboard campaign that quoted then PM Jean Chretien on the GST.
First, repeat his promise to “axe the tax”, and include the date of the CBC broadcast when he said it on live television. Then, run 3 or 4 quotes below that promise, with dates and places, where he denied that he had promised to repeal the GST. “I never said that” was my favourite. Why run an attack ad if the candidate (or his own deputy leader in Iggy’s case) can destroy himself with his own words/promises? Our $30k budget didn’t get us too far, but they were good.
In the current environment, the idea that a few experienced and saavy people will sit in a smoke-filled room and dream up the ad campaign for an election hasn’t gone away – but now they’ll have a lot of company in the age of YouTube. Everyone with the technical ability and the burning desire to effect change has the chance to write their own ad script, produce the slot, and post it online for the dead tree and 24-hour-news-cycle media to repeat with relish.
The U.S. Democratic Campaign has already got their first taste of it, as some smartie pants did an excellent job on Senator Hillary Clinton using the 1984 Apple campaign as his inspiration. Here is the YouTube link. Sure, it turned out that this citizen advertizer was a supporter of Senator Obama Barack, or at least worked for people that worked for Senator Barack. (The proud author leaked his role to a blogger, of course, and not the NYT).
But it wasn’t an authorized campaign ad, nor did it have to be. Any of us have the ability to write, direct, produce and display a political ad, as we’ve seen with the Clinton 1984 success, get almost 2 million hits in a couple of weeks. It isn’t the GRPs you get from a spot on American Idol, but the free media coverage of the 1984 Clinton ad certainly rivals a national campaign single slot ad buy.
Obama told CNN’s Larry King Monday night that “in some ways, it’s the democratization of the campaign process. But it’s not something that we had anything to do with or were aware of, and that frankly, given what it looks like, we don’t have the technical capacity to create something like this.”
And, as with any ad campaign, there’s the response ad. Here is a weak attempt to reach back into fast food ad and campaign lore to tag Barack with the “Where’s the beef?” line.
And none of this, nor the “free media” that covers it, eats even a penny of a candidate’s campaign spending cap.
I’m sure Senator Barack is right. Technology is democratizing political campaigns, odd as it is to think that democracy needs democratizing. The elites have controlled global politics for a few hundred years, and I’m not sure if YouTube is going to change that reality. But if it does engage more young people in politics, and boost our national election participation rate higher than 60ish percent, “that’s all good” as the YouTube crowd would say.