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McCain’s YouTube Problem

The Washington Times reports that Sen. John McCain is finally rivaling Sen. Barack Obama’s YouTube success, after a burst of negative ads last week. TWI’s Matt DeLong predicts more "inflammatory ads," online and on-air, "if that’s what it takes to get people to pay attention to the McCain campaign."

And bingo — McCain stormed YouTube with a web exclusive ad today, (which I discuss here ). Yet while McCain’s YouTube views are rising, an undeniable plus, he has not yet closed any gap for deploying YouTube as a unique tool for political persuasion.

YouTube is most effective as an alternative platform for political information that is* not *otherwise easily available to voters. Lengthy candidate speeches, unscripted moments, documentary footage and unusual ideas can get a hearing that is impossible on broadcast television. The most influential YouTube efforts exploit this opportunity, from Macaca to The Speech. Now take the nominees’ top five YouTube videos. Four of Obama’s fit the bill — there are two long speeches — which are only counted for YouTube "views" when visitors watch the whole thing — and two specially recorded addresses to the YouTube community (like Perot-style infomericials, only shorter and better). And there’s one TV clip, from "Ellen." Yet all five of McCain’s top videos are from TV. Four are ads, including the recent offensive, and one is a clip of former President Bill Clinton telling Barbara Walters that McCain "might be the most electable" Republican. (Wonder why that didn’t make it in the new web ad of Democratic Praise.)

So McCain’s YouTube success uses the site as a duplicate platform to rebroadcast TV programming, while Obama has excelled by giving voters alternative content about the campaign. To be fair, McCain’s staff *has *tried to produce exclusive YouTube programming, like the "Cribs" video below, but it just hasn’t been very popular.

PRODUCTION NOTES: McCain’s "Cribs" video adopts MTV’s 360-degree shooting style, offering YouTube viewers a grainy, "behind the scenes" feel for life on the road. The score toggles between hip-hop instrumentals and modern rock, with a low-angle shot of an advance staffer hyping how they "roll in style" on a campaign bus with "22-inch rims." There’s a quick shot of the bus shower. It’s no wonder Jon Stewart calls him "JMac."

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