Q&A: James Kotecki on YouTube Campaigning
Thursday, December 15, 2011 - 02:28 PM
On Wednesday of last week, Rick Perry’s campaign posted a video on YouTube that caused a bit of a stir.
I'm not ashamed to admit that I'm a Christian, but you don't need to be in the pew every Sunday to know there's something wrong in this country when gays can serve openly in the military but our kids can't openly celebrate Christmas or pray in school.
A week after the video was posted, it had 6.5 million views, 22,000 “likes,” and 675,000 “dislikes,” making it the most disliked political video in YouTube history. (For anyone keeping track, Justin Bieber’s “Baby” still holds the crown for the most hated non-political video.) Perry’s ad quickly spawned a slew of parodies, featuring an array of personalities, from Jesus to Voldemort.
One came from video blogger James Kotecki. He chose to stay faithful to the structure of Perry’s script, treating it like a game of Mad Libs:
I'm not ashamed to admit that I'm an atheist, but you don't need to sleep in every Sunday to know there's something wrong in this country when Rick Perry can be openly homophobic but our kids can't openly celebrate evolution or learn science in school.
Since 2007, James has been using his video blog to analyze (and mock) political campaigns on YouTube. During the 2008 campaign, The Economist called him “probably the world’s foremost expert on YouTube videos posted by presidential candidates.”
This week, I asked James some questions about the Perry ad in particular, and about politics on YouTube in general.
DA: What made you decide to post a parody of Rick Perry’s video? Were you more interested in critiquing the form or the content?
JK: Initially, I just thought it would be funny to hear the same message from the opposite perspective. So the content, I suppose.
I’m not opposed to the form in general – there’s nothing inherently wrong with talking in the woods with a blue shirt and tan jacket. However, those were very distinct visual choices that made it easier to parody.
Were there any other “perrodies” you particularly liked?
The Jesus one was hilarious. I also liked the one with the rabbi. They were both strong parodies (get it?!).
What was it about the Perry video that made it go viral?
Homosexuals and atheists are well organized on the web, and Perry did a great job of offending both groups. Also, social issues have great emotional resonance, and emotional responses can often serve as a catalyst for virality.
In their book The Persuasive Power of Campaign Advertizing, Travis Ridout and Michael Franz observe the phenomenon of sensational TV ads going viral on the web, thereby attracting free additional attention in TV news. Viewing Perry’s ad in that light, was it a miscalculation on the part of the campaign, or is it playing out the way they wanted it to?
I think they must be happy with the video. They had it up on their homepage for a while, and Rick Perry stood firmly behind the ad. The people who hate Perry’s message would probably never have supported him anyway, so they probably don’t see much downside to the increased exposure.
Does targeted political advertizing have a future in the age of YouTube, where any ad has the potential to go viral in a negative way?
Yes. Even though everything is online, candidates still have to target certain voting blocs with specific messages. If Perry’s campaign hadn’t posted the video online, some else would have, and that would’ve probably made him look like he was trying to hide something.
Perry’s campaign has disallowed users from rating their new videos. Could this kind of decision create negative backlash for him and other candidates? Is commenting/rating a “right” that people are coming to expect?
Transparency is an important issue for me, but I’m not convinced it’s as crucial for the majority of voters. It’s hard for me to imagine a voter changing his or her mind about a politician because they disable YouTube comments.
Some of the most viewed political videos are funny. Almost all of the funny stuff is coming from individuals who support campaigns, rather than from the campaigns themselves. In 2008, did you see examples of campaigns trying to play the humor card? How has that worked out?
Campaign humor often feels forced, like when Hillary Clinton’s supporters reminisced about how she was in a rock band. It’s not that politicians can’t be funny, but I think many of them haven’t figured out how to be funny on YouTube. Although of course Mike Huckabee figured out the secret: recruiting Chuck Norris.
YouTube is hardly a new phenomenon, but has its importance or its potential changed in the past four years?
I think it’s importance just continues to grow as a communications tool, although outside sites like Twitter and Facebook are now much more important in helping YouTube content go viral.
There’s still huge potential for more behind-the-scenes videos, more video blogging from candidates and staffers, and more well-crafted humor videos from campaigns. I still don’t think we’ve seen a national candidate fully embrace all that YouTube is capable of. I think many campaigns might be afraid of taking the risk.
Is there any question I haven't asked that I should?
Q: In closing, can you put your thoughts on social media into a witty piano ballad?
A: Yes I can.