Video Made The Political Star

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Submitted for the April 2011 edition

Is your candidate ready for their close up? If not, they should be.

Campaign videos – specifically videos made for YouTube, Vimeo and other video hosting sites on the Internet – are quickly becoming one of the most impactful tools in your campaign toolkit. Just as the first televised debate between Kennedy and Nixon heralded a new era in political communications, there is ample evidence that web video is going to change how politicians regularly engage their target audience.

Canadians sure do love to watch videos on their computers. According to a recent study by ComScore, Canadians watched between 8 to 20 hours worth of online video in the last quarter of 2010. The typical Canadian watched over 200 videos in that same timeframe. The ComScore study also noted that while entertainment continues to be main genre of videos consumed online, views of videos categorized as “general news” rose by 14% from the same time last year.
Meanwhile, the video format is itself a powerful medium. Studies have shown that website visitors only typically remember 10% of what they read or hear 72 hours after they consume it on your website. However, video content resulted in a 68% recall rate. A University of Western Ontario study demonstrated that subjects remember 58% more of what was taught when the material was presented in both audio and visual form.

Video has also been demonstrated to invoke action. According to Forrester Research, including the word “video” in the subject line of an e-mail results in a 2-3 times higher open rate. One search engine marketing firm found that offering instructional or informational video generated 373% more leads for corporate clients than offering whitepapers for download.

Political leaders have seized on this trend and are exploring the potential life web video can offer to their political fortunes. In March of last year, Prime Minister Stephen Harper partnered with YouTube to conduct a live interview that featured questions pulled from the list of 1,800 submitted beforehand which were voted by over 140,000 individuals. The resulting interview was watched live by 30,000 Canadians and has been subsequently viewed over 272,000 times.

In the U.S., the White House recently demonstrated the full power of interactive online video during President Obama’s State of the Union address, with interactive charts and graphs, rotating fact boxes and sharing capabilities all built into the livestream of the President’s speech.

Of course, the power of web video has also been demonstrated in less positive ways. One only has to Google the word “Macaca” to see how one short video can quickly change a campaign. In the case of former Senator George Allen, the impact of a 2006 video clip of him using the slur to describe an opponent’s campaign staffer filming his stump speech was immediate. Many believe it that video contributed to his narrow defeat in Virginia.

If you’re still looking for yet another reason to invest your scarce time and resources into video, then analytics web video offers may yet convince you. Unlike traditional media buys, services like YouTube and others allow campaigns the ability to see exactly how many people viewed your spot, shared it and commented on it. Like most social media statistics, all of this data is recorded and displayed in real time, so you understand the impact your video is having with your target market.

Of course, online video doesn’t end with interviews featuring your candidate. More and more commercial and political advertising outfits are moving towards streaming online video ads to reach an audience. Each quarter, more dollars slated for TV advertising are being moved into the digital environment. Industry leaders expect that trend to continue into and beyond 2011 as advertisers look for better ways to segment, target and track how their ads are viewed and what impact it has on sales.

In the political realm, the 2010 midterms saw more online video ad buys than ever before. In an interview with ClickZ, a representative for Targeted Victory, a political firm that specializes in online campaigning, told the interviewer that the clients that “get it” were spending approximately 85% of their online budget on video advertising. Other reports from states with competitive races noted that in the crucial days leading up to the November vote many media buying agencies found that YouTube and other ad networks were running out of available ad inventory.

Web video creates an opportunity for campaigns to merge important campaign messages with compelling and impactful visual elements. And gone are the days when “spots” cost tens (if not hundreds) of thousands of dollars to produce and distribute. For the price of a decent video recorder, a microphone and editing software, even local candidates can produce quality web video for their campaign. And distributing it and tracking results cost a fraction of what it did even ten years ago.

As the old adage goes, a picture is worth a thousand words. Video, then, is worth tens of thousands of words. As more voters come to access their video content online, it is important that campaigns recognize how to effectively integrate video into their communications program. Done correctly, it can have a meaningful and substantive impact on your campaign.

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