Barack Obama's 2008 run for president, in which he went from an unknown Illinois senator with an unusual name to a decisive victory against a veteran opponent, has been called a work of political genius. But it was an unofficial online "fan" video, not a polished campaign spot, that would emerge as the message of the moment.
On January 8, 2008, candidate Obama gave a speech in New Hampshire after coming in second to Hillary Clinton in that state's early primary. The speech was a rally cry to continue the fight and not lose momentum. In it, he re-introduced a longstanding campaign theme that he hoped would resonate with underdog Americans who have fought for hard-earned civil rights and workers' rights.
"For when we have faced down impossible odds, when we've been told we're not ready or that we shouldn't try or that we can't, generations of Americans have responded with a simple creed that sums up the spirit of a people," spoke Obama. "Yes, we can. Yes, we can. Yes, we can."
The message certainly resonated with pop musician Will.i.am of the Black Eyed Peas. As Will.i.am explained in The Huffington Post, he had become apathetic to the political process, assuming that all candidates were the same. But when he heard Obama's New Hampshire speech about hope and change and optimism in the face of dire times, it clicked. It clicked so hard that Will.i.am started reaching out to friends in the entertainment world -- singers, actors and filmmakers -- to collaborate on a spoken-word "song" set to Obama's speech [source: Huffington Post]. After a marathon 48-hour recording session, Will.i.am released the "Yes We Can" video on his Web site. It exploded.
With no input or authorization from the Obama campaign, the video went viral, reaching nearly a million hits in its first two days online [source: Alexovich]. Again, it's hard to quantify the effect of a single political advertisement on the general election, but videos like "Yes We Can" undoubtedly helped to mobilize the unprecedented number of young voters who showed up at the polls for Obama.
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