Recently, many political consultants and communications people have developed a small obsession with producing "viral" animations for their campaigns. One shouted despairingly at members of the Kerry Internet team after 2004, "If you had done a JibJab you would have won!!" He was referring to the truly hilarious animation featuring a smart parody of "This Land is Your Land" with, among other clever things, Kerry, Bush and Dean dancing in leather bondage outfits. Millions watched, and since then many a consultant -- with the best of intentions -- has uttered the fateful words, "Give me $16,000 and I will give you JibJab!"
Of course, campaigns can't get away with making their opponents dance in scandalous outfits to controversial rewritings of patriotic songs. As a result, they make deathly-boring, poorly-produced crap that no one will ever watch, like this GOP production:
What you're watching is tens of thousands of dollars of GOP funds being wasted on a really dumb way to present standard oppo research text. No, the pretty colors do not make us want to read your boring facts. In fact, the tiny font you used, and all the clicking around you make us do, deter us from reading it. Anyways, it's all moot because the annoying, two-second sound track loop will prevent ANYONE from watching for more than 10 or 20 seconds.
With that being the state of the art in U.S. politics, it's not surprising that there hasn't been a single example of a U.S. campaign making an ad that truly "went viral." (Correct me if I'm wrong.)
However, from Britain, where parties tend to work with commercial ad firms (instead of ghettoizing their media into a separate politics-only ad sector), we're getting some examples of how it might be done well.
Tim Ireland, a usually ill-tempered British blogger, lightened up recently to do this great piece for the UK Liberal Democrat Party:
(It seems to be taking a while for the animation to load, but it's worth the wait if you're in this business.)
A great example from the Labor Party came earlier this year:
I hope not too much will be lost in translation: The Liberal Democrats are a 3rd party with a significant share of the vote. They had a chance to overtake the Tories (the Conservative Party) as the primary opposition party in the last election, but blew it primarily because they failed to use Internet organizing (petitions, events, etc...) to rally anti-war anger against the otherwise lightyears-to-the-left-of-the-Democrats Labour Party. (Where were you when they needed you Tim!?)
Now, the Tories have a "charismatic" new leader who is taking symbolic stands on the environment to convince British voters that his party is really, truly, finally done with being the party of the old, the crotchety and the weird. For example, he rides a bicycle to work! (Of course, it came out instantly that his limo follows behind.)
These are the only animations produced by campaigns that I've actually wanted to keep watching after the first 10 seconds. On Tim's, the production values are high; The face -- those unmatched eyes -- is creative and really conveys something about Cameron (is one of the eyes Blair's?); and the pace is fast (too often political campaign animations seem to drag on, with long pauses between each sentence). The Labor video is just so nicely done, but does fall into the trap of laboriously trying to go through the Communication Department's checklist of important messages to deliver.
They've engaged the production professionals. Now they just need to get real comedians involved. Attention Labor: Don't forget John O'Farrell!
Of course, if YouTube had existed during the 2005 elections, when the right-wing nationalist UKIP aired their "Big Blue Octopus" election broadcast, I GUARANTEE YOU it would have gone viral. WATCH THE BIG BLUE OCTOPUS!
But that brings up another danger of campaign viral video: when your piece goes viral, is it because they're laughing with you...or at you?