Voter-Generated Content Makes or Breaks Candidates

Today’s the historic day when people across America head to the polls to engage and participate. In honor of such an important election in our nation’s history, it only seems appropriate to add my opinions and thoughts to the already endless mix of articles, blogs, vlogs, Twitters, Diggs, videos, and text messages that have made up and shaped this year’s presidential campaign.

In the spirit of the election and its relevance to online video advertising, this past week I spent quite a bit of time digesting The Living Room Candidate‘s archive of the last 50 years in political ads. After watching over 100 ads of the 300-plus in the video library, one thing became very clear: online video has and will forever change political campaigning.

Let’s take a look as how the medium has transformed this election cycle, as well as how its role may influence the outcome of today’s polls.

From Messaging to Conversation

When it comes to campaigning — in effect advertising — Barack Obama and John McCain are facing the same challenges as brands. Neither candidate is completely in control of his image. Messaging at people no longer works. Candidates on national and local levels must find ways to connect with their constituents as well as be nimble and quick to respond to questions, concerns, and misconceptions. People want to have a conversation — they want to be heard. And, online video is the critical new medium that will make that happen.

The Changing Tone

While categories like “Fear,” Backfire,” and Commander in Chief” may have worked and ruled TV screens of the past, it’s categories like humor, transparency, and pragmatism that are quickly taking over TV and Internet screens.

One only browses YouTube for an hour to see which candidate and voter-base is best embracing this new spirit, and in turn, experiencing overwhelmingly positive results.

Moreover, lying and “stretching the truth” to create backfire campaigns and evoke fear are no longer winning strategies. Sites like The Fact Checker and the growing power of a social networker’s ability to crowd source and uncover information has led to a playing field that demands honesty and transparency.

While both candidates are guilty of dishonest tactics along the way, the McCain/Palin campaign’s overwhelming negative tactics may prove to be the biggest backfire of all — the McCain/Palin team’s average video rating is consistently two to three stars below the Obama/Biden campaign. People in turn are responding negatively to dirty politics, and they now have a real way to voice it.

The Year of Voter-Generated Video

While the presidential candidates have only begun to tap into the full potential of online video to influence votes, the voters themselves have turned professional overnight. When searching for Obama or McCain on YouTube, the top four or five most viewed videos are created by either third parties or passionate voters.

Just how powerful is this voter-generated content?

Whether you’re talking about U.S. Senator George Allen’s “macaca” quip, which was captured on YouTube and later killed his bid to run for the 2008 GOP presidential nomination , or Phil de Vellis‘s controversial “1984” style “Vote Different” video that can arguably be said helped Obama secure the Democratic presidential nomination, this emerging media is powerful enough to both make and break political careers.

Voter-generated content has proven that it can officially change the dynamics of presidential campaigning. Candidates no longer are in full control of their message, and messages made by third parties and individuals have the power to dramatically shift perception.

This past year, online video’s use quintupled over previous election periods. While the final impact and final votes haven’t been tallied yet, I guarantee traditional media and presidential candidates will be looking closely at videos like “Obama Girl,” “Yes We Can,” and “Dear Mr. Obama” to understand how to best leverage the passionate voter-base in future campaigns.

Quantity, Quality, and Costs

While breezing through The Living Room Candidate videos, the one major shift (aside from the transition to color TV) was the sheer number of video produced in 2008 over previous years. From 1952 to 2000, the total number of videos across parties ranged from 16 to 20 per campaign year. From 2000 through 2008, that number quintupled from 18 to 40 in 2004 to 96 videos in this year’s election. That doesn’t even include all of the voter-generated content circling the Web or the 30-minute highly produced infomercial released this past week by Obama!

But even more alarming is the amount of money now needed to run a competitive race. From 2000 to 2008 the total amount raised by both parties tripled to a total of $1.5 billion, adding to an outrageous expected total of $5.3 billion by the end of the election.

What has caused such an excess need for spending and video production? Some would say that the Obama campaign is at fault for creating such an unbeatable fundraising machine, which has lead to a competitive campaign race like none other before.

But the true culprit is the very nature of the new media landscape.

In a summary of the 2008 election, The Living Room Candidate states that the candidates are in “an ad war that is unprecedented in its quantity and cost” and that “ads are being created in rapid-response fashion, timed for the increasingly fast-paced news cycle.”

And what’s feeding that news cycle? The rapid increase in voter-generated content and the demand to be heard and responded to.

Unfortunately, moving from messaging at people to having actual real conversations with voters is an expensive endeavor for both candidates. The true test of future campaigns may be less about how much money each candidate can raise, and more about how much (and how comfortable) each candidate is willing to rely on their passionate voter-base to do the work for them.

Want more campaign information? Check out our ClickZ News Campaign ’08 section for the latest news and analysis.

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