August 8th, 2008
Watch the two clips below and see if you agree: when the professional ad makers take on the distributed, collective intelligence of the internet, the ad guys risk losing. Here’s what I mean: McCain’s video folks are clearly very talented, in that they can craft an effective ad in a very short time. They have to — turnaround for a political spot in a fierce battle is less than a day if you want to answer your opponent in time to catch the media wave. But what they produce is still just a standard political ad, with the usual imagery, the usual music and the usual “I’m great and my opponent sucks” messaging.
But combine the ‘net with cheap cameras and easy video-editing software, and millions of people can produce video clips, most of which will of course stink. But with so many monkeys banging away on keyboards, something good is likely to emerge — and many of those monkeys are also video professionals with experience and skills in the medium. So let’s look at this week’s evidence and draw some conclusions:
The McCain version isn’t bad for a political ad — it’s put together well from a technical point of view (though with the sound off, you’d think it was an Obama spot), and its message was striking enough to attract plenty of attention. But the Paris Hilton response (created by Adam McKay) is sheer genius by comparison. It flat-out schools McCain, making him look like a fool — in part because it actually contains substance, unlike 99% of political television ads. As my friend Shola pointed out last night, part of its strength comes from the inversion of our expectations about Paris, since it presents HER as the substantive voice, the one with a real energy plan (forget that it’s one of those simple solutions that sounds great but would last about two seconds in the real world of politics).
Also note that the Paris response to McCain doesn’t need fancy video-editing or background music, since it has GOOD WRITING and a compelling subject (people can’t seem to get enough of images of Paris, would that we were all so Pretty). Above all, it’s fresh and it’s creative — it demands that you pay attention.
The lesson: political professionals need to realize that they don’t have a monopoly on political messaging — from T. Boone Pickens to Will.i.am to Ms. Hilton, average citizens can now go toe-to-toe with them and even win a few rounds. It helps to have Pickens’s millions to spread the word, but good creative and a good subject can combine with the world of blogs, social networks and free video hosting to get a piece in front of a massive audience. How many more people will see Paris Hilton’s response than McCain’s original video? By which I mean, how many more people will imbibe an anti-McCain message presented by a compelling host?
Adam McKay said that “McCain made one huge mistake: He drifted into the world of pop culture.” But ALL campaigns have drifted into a social media world as well, and political professionals had better come to terms with it. If they want their messages to be seen rather than skipped-over in Tivo, they’d better up their game — you’re not just competing with your opponent’s creative team, you’re competing with EVERYONE who can create content online. Up the revolution, baby! Now THAT’S hot.