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.
For lots more information on political communications, presidential campaigns and political controversies, explore the links below.
Author's Note: 5 Most Effective Campaign Ads
Americans are more media savvy than ever. We know which newspapers, magazines and cable news channels share our particular political views and we are loyal to them. We distrust information that doesn't come from our self-approved sources and are quick to accuse the other side of bending the facts in their Machiavellian schemes. But what really amazes me is that even with all of the headlines about Super PACs and the influence of big money on elections, we're still so easily influenced by political attack ads. Why do negative accusations stick so easily to our brains? And how can we prevent ourselves from becoming pawns in a cynical marketing game? Watching these ads from the past 60 years of American politics didn't give me much hope that anything is going to change in the future.
- Alexovich, Ariel. The New York Times. "Obama Supporters Sing, 'Yes We Can.'" February 4, 2008 (May 31, 2012.) http://thecaucus.blogs.nytimes.com/2008/02/04/obama-supporters-sing-yes-we-can/
- Delo, Cotton. AdAge. "Super PACs Could Drive Total 2012 Election Spending to $9.8B." March 7, 2012 (May 31, 2012.) http://adage.com/article/campaign-trail/total-2012-election-spending-hit-9-8b/233155/
- Elliott, Stuart. The New York Times. "Hal Riney, Adman for Reagan and G.M., Dies at 75." March 26, 2008 (May 31, 2012.) http://www.nytimes.com/2008/03/26/business/media/26riney.html
- Schwartz, David. Museum of the Moving Image. "Never Had It So Good" http://www.livingroomcandidate.org/commercials/1952 (May 31, 2012.)
- Schwartz, David. Museum of the Moving Image. "Prouder, Stronger, Better" http://www.livingroomcandidate.org/commercials/1984 (May 31, 2012.)
- Schwartz, David. Museum of the Moving Image. "Revolving Door" http://www.livingroomcandidate.org/commercials/1988 (May 31, 2012.)
- TIME. Top 10 Campaign Ads. "Daisy Girl" (May 31, 2012.) http://www.time.com/time/specials/packages/article/0,28804,1842516_1842514_1842649,00.html#ixzz1voVAhVM1
- TIME. Top 10 Campaign Ads. "Morning in America" (May 31, 2012.) http://www.time.com/time/specials/packages/article/0,28804,1842516_1842514_1842575,00.html#ixzz1vogavRjI
- Toner, Robin. The New York Times. "Prison Furloughs in Massachussetts Threaten Dukakis Record on Crime." July 5, 1988 (May 31, 2012.) http://www.nytimes.com/1988/07/05/us/prison-furloughs-in-massachusetts-threaten-dukakis-record-on-crime.html?pagewanted=all&src=pm
- Will.I.Am. "Why I Recorded Yes We Can." Huffington Post. February 3, 2008. (June 1, 2012.) http://www.huffingtonpost.com/william/why-i-recorded-yes-we-can_b_84655.html
- Wisconsin Public Television. The :30 Second Candidate. "Historical Timeline: 1964" (May 31, 2012.) http://www.pbs.org/30secondcandidate/timeline/years/1964.html
- Wisconsin Public Television. The :30 Second Candidate. "From Idea to Ad" (May 31, 2012.) http://www.pbs.org/30secondcandidate/from_idea_to_ad/research2.html
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