Mark McKinnon on McCain’s Online Video Strategy: First by Plan, Then by Necessity

February 7th, 2008

At Thursday’s IPDI-sponsored Super Tuesday postmortem, John McCain consultant and former Bushie Mark McKinnon talked quite a bit about how the web has changed the the business of video advertising, particularly the explosion of online-only video. After the event, I asked him whether McCain’s much-noted online-only video ad strategy had been intentional or was a reaction to circumstances. He replied that the campaign had had a “robust” multi-channel video strategy at the beginning of the campaign, but that McCain’s implosion over the summer had forced them to focus on the web over TV because it was free. During the full panel discussion, McKinnon also made the point that the online video ads haven’t been intended for a mass audience as much as for journalists, leading to free exposure on TV news and helping to shape reporters’ opinions about the race.

McKinnon said something else about digital video that I hadn’t considered before: until 2004, if you wanted to show the candidate or other staff member a TV ad that was still under construction, you’d need to ship a tape and put it in front of him. In 2004, easy video compression made it possible to send over that same ad via email, vastly speeding up the editing and approval process. He noted that McCain’s web and television commercials this cycle have been the product of a team of four people, shooting video themselves and editing it on their own computers. Full studio rigs? Apparently no longer required.

Also on the subject of video, Ana Marie Cox pointed to citizen-generated YouTube clips as driving the campaigns to improve their own ads, since they’re now competing with a vast number of talented amateurs. The unintended consequences of social media! McKinnon agreed with her and said that campaigns now also have a harder and harder time breaking through to reach increasingly skeptical voters — we can add voter cynicism to the list of reasons that political television advertising is steadily declining in effectiveness.


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