Obama Girl: Can the buzz from one viral video shape a national election?

I’ve written often about generating buzz for film through viral awareness, incorporating viral video into publicity campaigns, deploying embed-and-spread to find, build, and engage an audience.  When it’s done well, it’s very successful. We’ve all seen plenty of examples.

barelypolitical.jpgWho would have guessed viral awareness tools would sweep into our country’s political process as well?  Certainly, not much in the 2004 elections would have indicated viral video’s power in the political arena. What? Buzz around a satirical YouTube music video of a sexy undulating young woman could possibly figure into something as sober as the decision-making process of American voters in deciding the next President of the United States??

 Who knew?

And yet, it seems that’s exactly what has happened in 2007-2008.  While following Barack Obama’s campaign progress, one thing that struck me is the number of younger supporters he’s gathered.  I thought about what would make him seem attractive to that particular demographic.  I’m sure there are lots of things.  Obama has one thing, however, that the other candidates don’t.  There’s a pop culture phenomenon associated with him that remains unique to this one particular candidate. 

Obama Girl.

Am I crazy for even entertaining the notion that one viral video could have such an impact on voter preferences? 

I decided to turn to the man behind Obama Girl and her famous video for some insight and feedback. I contacted Ben Relles to learn more about his motivations for making the video, and to find out if he thought I was connecting dots (between Obama Girl and Obama’s campaign followers) that really can’t be logically connected.

Relles is definitely a supporter of Obama but he told me his primary motivation for making the overnight YouTube sensation I Got a Crush on Obama was not to campaign for the Obama, but to experiment with the idea of digitizing the conversation of politics by taking a concept he hoped people would find funny and entertaining, make a video, toss it up on the Web and see what happened.

What happened? A conservative estimate indicates 20 million people around the world have watched the video, with almost seven million views on YouTube alone. “I never imagined it would be viewed as much as it has been, or get this much media attention,” he said.

Ok. There’s no question Obama Girl and the video are a huge hit. The question is did this video, watched by millions in the 18-34 age demographic, influence enough younger American voters’ perception of Obama that it caused, or at least significantly contributed to the growing groundswell of support of younger voters in Obama’s election campaign? Put another way, is it possible the line between pop culture and politics has blurred to the point that YouTube viewers’ perception of Senator Obama, associated with the Obama Girl video, as someone that is hip, current, and relatable, has resulted in Obama receiving a lot of support from 18-34 demographic in his campaign for President? I think the answer is “yes”, but I wanted to know if Relles would agree. His response:

“I think it’s entirely conceivable that the video raised awareness and created excitement around [Obama’s] candidacy. Our video, wil.i.am‘s video, and other political videos represent a powerful concept:  any individual with a handheld camera and an idea can create something in a matter of hours, and days later have it viewed by millions of people around the world.  This wasn’t the case in the 2004 election because there was no YouTube.  Our video was one of the first to pop through, to show an example of how viral video can impact a campaign. It’s a new, added dynamic. “

So maybe the dots can be connected.  Maybe Obama Girl’s video did launch the build-up of support for Obama among younger voters.  I asked Relles for an update on whether or not anyone from Obama’s campaign has officially contacted him about the famous video.  He indicated that no officials have spoken to him, although he has received lots of positive feedback about the video from various campaign volunteers.  He’s also received several requests from outfits representing various brands and other politicians to create a viral video for their campaigns.

The outcome of the primaries is still too close to call.   Whatever the results, it’s clear that an effective viral video posseses power, whether it’s to build awareness for a Presidential Candidate, or to generate buzz and interest in a film.

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4 Responses to Obama Girl: Can the buzz from one viral video shape a national election?

  1. Zo$imo says:

    Great article. Although I do agree that Obama Girl has brought awareness to generation buzz, it also has had its negative effect of creating the label of “celebrity” for Obama. I believe the next phase of originally produced web content is to focus on videos that have a more meaningful message and impact. Obama’s edge over McCain will be the youth vote and the challenge is to get that demographic to actually vote. As a content creator I feel the need to make videos in a style that speak to them directly that are purposely created to campaign for him. Please check out:

    Obama+MLK Remix 08

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