The 2008 presidential candidates want you to know that they know their way around YouTube. Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, John Edwards and Sam Brownback all announced their candidacies on the video-sharing site, and an official page hosts videos from seventeen candidates. Some commentators are calling this the YouTube election.
So far, it seems as if everyone has figured web video out but the candidates. No one’s talking about the video of Sam Brownback’s speech in Ames, Iowa, but most of us have seen John Edwards primping to “I Feel Pretty,” or Hillary Clinton speaking to a zombified audience in a parody of an old Mac computer ad. John McCain took a hit for singing “Bomb Iran.” And then there’s Obama Girl. These videos, short clips that play on viewers’ concerns about candidates (is Edwards just a pretty face? is McCain a little too excited about war? is Obama really that hot?), have sparked extensive coverage from the mainstream media and helped crystallize candidates’ public image. In return, few of the candidates have posted anything but videos of speeches and rallies, which have all the excitement and panache of C-SPAN.
Even on the rare occasion when the campaigns get creative, the results feel flat. Edwards’s campaign played up his friendly Southern image by filming two of his top aides trying, and failing, to bake his mother’s pecan pie. On June 19 Clinton announced her new campaign song (Celine Dion’s “You and I”) in a video spoofing the final episode of The Sopranos. The point, presumably, is to demonstrate that they have a sense of humor, but it’s not all that convincing.
The best of the bunch are by Mitt Romney. In addition to the usual copies of television interviews, his site contains videos narrated by his son Tagg, which intersplice speeches with quotes from excited volunteers on why they love their candidate. The video holds a viewer’s attention and projects an infectious enthusiasm that feels spontaneous.
But US presidential candidates aren’t the first politicians to explore web video–officials in Europe have already been experimenting with the genre.
In Britain, David Cameron, leader of the conservative Tory party, has developed WebCameron, a personal website featuring blogs and videos. The first video, announcing the launch of the site, features Cameron in his kitchen, washing up after his kids while chatting to the camera about his new project. Subsequent videos show the party leader visiting “ordinary” people–tailing a police officer in South Wales (a video disappointingly free of wild car chases), acting as a teacher’s assistant and visiting a mosque. In a standard clip, Cameron talks with the people he’s meeting, asking them about their problems, and then delivers a short speech summarizing the issues confronting the group he spoke with and how he would help solve them. The message, of course, is that Cameron–and, by extension, his party–cares about the common man and can be counted on to solve problems.