What Those Viral Campaign Fundraising Videos REALLY Tell Us

Promoting digital video

Are “viral” fundraising videos replacing TV ads? The New York Times evidently thinks so. Will they dethrone email as the king of digital political fundraising? The short answer: no time soon. But, the fact that Democratic candidates have raised big money from compelling personal videos shared online DOES tell us something important about politics in 2018.

First, let’s take on the vidoes themselves: yes, candidates like Anastasia Ocasio-Cortez, MJ Hegar in Texas and Ayanna Pressley HAVE benefited enormously from telling their stories in well produced campaign spots, raising hundreds of thousands of dollars from Democrats across the country. But as I discuss in my latest Campaigns & Elections column, that fact doesn’t mean that fundraising videos are ALL that these candidates and other Democrats like them are counting on.

Grassroots donors have also showered Beto O’Rourke’s Texas Senate campaign with cash, and he too has employed social media to connect with the public. But he’s also campaigning in person (visiting all 254 Texas counties), buying TV ads, buying radio ads, sending near-daily fundraising emails and even investing in print ads. He’s run a balanced campaign, not one that hangs on a single powerful video, and I suspect that most successful 2018 candidates will too.

Another consideration? While these individual videos have succeeded, anyone who works in digital marketing knows that most don’t: for every piece of content that “goes viral”, untold numbers sink without a ripple. Campaigns simply can’t count on them reaching voters and donors, though it’s great when they do. As for replacing TV ads, as the NYT suggests? Good luck with that — viral videos aren’t going to reach many undecided or swing voters in the right precincts, if they’re pay attention to social media at all.

The most important point about these fundraising videos is whom they DO connect with: a huge number of Democratic activists eager to change the way things are going in this country. THAT’S the real force, and videos provide one route to their wallets. The connections these pieces spark may not go away soon, either. As I put it in C&E:

Whatever the final financial tally this cycle, the feelings awakened by powerful and personal campaign videos may last beyond the moment. Ocasio-Cortez has become a celebrity as much as a politician, and she and her compatriots are building relationships with donors and activists across the country on a vast scale. One day perhaps we’ll look back on her video as an emblem: what a political movement looks like in an age when teenagers dream of YouTube stardom.

Written by
Colin Delany
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