Thursday, February 5, 2009

YouTube and Political Speech -- A Trend?

Two really significant domestic political items caught my eye last month because I think they might be a harbinger of a bigger trend to come: The use of YouTube as a way for candidates to cheaply and widely make major campaign announcements, decisions, policy proposals, etc. without having to rely on paid television advertisements or grovel for radio/TV airtime.

The first was the Boston mayoral race where Boston City Councilor Michael Flaherty first announced his bid for office on YouTube (he then took it back and then re-took that back, which is quite confusing but not the bigger point here).

The second comes out of Virginia, where Attorney General Bob McDonnell announced his resignation from that office for the purpose of full-time campaigning for governor via YouTube.

If you combine the increasing use of things like YouTube by everyday citizens with the fact that fewer people are subject to TV commercials (thanks to things like DVDs, TiVO, and now the gaggle of legitimate and not-so-legitimate Internet sites that let you watch your favorite shows online), what might happen is a political trend where big money (and, therefore the two big parties) become less relevant.

I admit, that's a kind of shooting-from-the-hip brand of analysis. I would imagine things like posters, billboards, buttons, t-shirts, and the like still eat up a large amount of dough. But I would also bet that money otherwise spent on a 30-second spot during primetime TV could buy a whole lot of paraphernalia (or, better yet, not have to be raised at all).

All I know is that I expect to see more and more usage of free Internet media like Facebook and YouTube in the coming years, which may have the power to level the playing field somewhat in terms of who is able to make a viable run for political office and whose voice can be heard.


Nick said...

Spot on Greg. I like that you point out how local politicians have embraced this medium. It's clear on the national level as well.

Granted, Obama raised tons of cash and aired a boat-load of ads last year. But how effective are these outmoded methods? I would wager that he won many more votes without spending a dime--through an internet that is far more democratic than the conventional press, as well as speeches, town hall meetings, and debates.

John Kerry also raised a butt-ton of cash back in '04. He ran a bajillion ads, and spent a record amount in his campaign against Bush. Thing is, people just didn't like him. Everything he said sounded contrived. He could have spent 10x as much money, and still have lost in a squeaker. Kerry's biggest mistake was not following the example set by the defeated Dr. Dean.

At the time, I had major qualms with Howard Dean. I still do--but, his campaign (up until it's last few weeks) will go down in American History textbooks as a watershed change in the political process. His campaign's understanding of how the internet could bring people together was landmark. Sure, 13 year olds all across the world figured it out years before, but Dean's campaign was the first to embrace it in a serious way.

Obama took from Dean what Kerry couldn't. He's also mixed it with an eloquence and intelligence that neither other could muster.

At the same time, Dean's tenure as DNC chair has been a success in the sense that a "50 state strategy" has been inherently less rank and divisive than the policies of Clinton/McAuliffe years.

A topic to consider: just as youtube is becoming a tool for politicians, so too can it be their undoing. George Allen in Virginia? 'member that? Then senator Biden making fun of Indian-Americans who work at 7-11--sure, it was on C-SPAN, but through youtube many more people could see it. The list goes on and on. I believe that everything in government, from the school board to the Oval office to the Supreme Court, should be transparent and streaming on the internet, if not TV.

All the best,

Chris said...


I know it's become cliche to say things like, "the internet has changed everything," but this is especially true when it comes to media and information.

As Nick pointed out, the internet truly can be a vehicle for democracy: the information there is 1) accessable to all, and, perhaps even more importantly, is 2) free.

Since I have no personal stake in the advertising industry, I'm very excited about the waning influence of TV advertising. Let's remember this fundamental princple of economics: it's a zero-sum game.

For example, we just witnessed another Super Bowl, which we all know is the most costly TV-air time. Well, when you see a 30 second ad for State Farm, just remember where the money came from to finance such an expensive ad: the premium YOU pay for the coverage you purchase from them.

Why is it cheaper to buy "No-Ad" sunblock than "Hawiian Tropics"? That's a no brainer.

Sure, the ad industry creates jobs and bussiness activity, but as usual, only very few people are ad-exects, living high on the hog.

The New Englander said...


Great stuff, and I love the connection from politics over to business to our wallets.

..and as someone who is reluctant to give Howard Dean credit for much of anything, I have to admit his election was a game-changer as Nick points out...Obama basically co-opted what was good about it but framed it in a much more appealing package, and to great effect.

The ad execs might have reason to worry -- if they go the way of the dodo, they will have to stop scrapping it out with medical interns to see who can be more over-represented on primetime TV!

stay militant,