Online Politics & The CNN/YouTube Debates

Watching the for the Democratic presidential primary candidates , I thought it was a fairly good format but not quite the populist innovation I was hoping for.  The one thing that struck me from an online politics and marketing point of view, was the candidate’s YouTube commercials that ran going into, appropriately, commercial breaks.

With the exception of and , though some were cute or humorous, all the candidates had the pretty standard boilerplate political TV ads we’ve come to expect. Only Clinton and Edwards embraced the culture of YouTube.

There are certain communication conventions that have percolated to the surface of the YouTube community to become common practices. Take three prominent examples 1) Webcam commentary where the video creator(s) speaks directly to the camera, 2) mashups, where you take various pictures or video clips and mix them with music or commentary to make an entirely new video, and 3) crowd sourcing, where you ask the YouTube community at large to create a video for you.

John Edwards’ campaign produced their own video for the debate with a mashup of the title song from the musical and photos that contrasted images of hair with images of , President , mayhem in Iraq, and the desperation during the aftermath of :

The video is very sophisticated in the sense that it addresses an Edwards weakness. Edwards has been criticized as a pretty boy and Democratic primary voters may worry that this presents an electability issue for him. A YouTube video of him combing his hair before an interview has enjoyed more than 825,000 views and not long ago he was in the news for paying exorbitant prices to his hair stylist:

Edwards’ ad address the issue, makes fun of himself indirectly, while bringing up substantive campaign issues. It also looks like a YouTube video with it’s blurry, over-compressed graphics and using the slide show, photo montage format with nonstandard size photos that leave black bars on the screen.

Hilary Clinton’s YouTube ad is the result of yet another campaign contest, this time asking her supporters to create a video for the occasion.  The last time the campaign tried such an approach was when they asked supporters to pick Clinton’s campaign theme song. That didn’t go so well when .

But this time, . The winner of the contest mashes up "" from the suites by

…with the iconic placards from ‘s

… right down to the same font:

By using crowd sourcing (a democratic activity, in this case), the Clinton campaign got a video that looks right at home on YouTube, evokes a cultural icon representative of change in the form of Bob Dylan with imagery that touches two generations (the 80s band did as well) and echoes the campaign’s catchphrase (Ready For Change), addresses specific campaign issues, and ends with a clever tagline that appeals to women.

I have one real criticism about the debate.

I would’ve liked to see CNN and YouTube use the wisdom of crowds, the Web 2.0 idea that many heads are better than one, by allowing people to vote on which video questions would be used for the debate rather than leaving it up to the news organizations to choose.

Sure, the campaigns would no doubt game the system by having their supporters vote for the best questions for their candidate. And there’s no surefire way to prevent people from voting multiple times, though there are restrictions you can implement. But the sheer critical mass of the volume of CNN viewers and YouTube users would no doubt level that playing field.

And, God forbid, foreigners might vote for the questions! But you know what, who cares? It’s not like, in this day and age, the rest of the world’s perception of or issues with us don’t matter.

My hunch is that the most pertinent and pressing issues would rise to the top and the questions would be formed in a manner most people thought would elicit a valid answer.

Finally, I would have really liked to see the candidates fully embrace Open Source Politics by, rather than directing their message at voters, eliciting opinions from voters. I would’ve liked to have seen one or more candidates use their commercial to ask the viewers and YouTubers for their feedback, for their issues and concerns, and to post them as a video response to that commercial.

By and large, though, the debate was more than a ratings gimmick, it was a step forward in online politics.

All Candidate Commercials For The Democratic Primary CNN/YouTube Debate

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