Crist probably didn’t approve THIS message

From the Florida Senate race comes this re-mix of a Charlie Crist ad:

This video is well done, drives home a message simply and effectively, and may very well have been done on an activist’s home computer.  Aside from demonstrating that the campaign messages are sometimes best articulated by volunteers and voters, it shows the idiocy of campaign finance laws.

This isn’t necessarily a rogue activist popping off, but that is certainly a possibility.  Is that an in-kind donation to the Rubio campaign?  To Meek?  To both?  And how much is are the few hours of video editing worth?

The argument against campaign finance laws has always been that they fail to recognize the individual right of free speech.  When the only way to broadcast a message to a wide audience was through expensive broadcast media buys, it was harder to put the speech of a wealthy campaign supporter in the same category as Joe Q. Average sharing an opinion with friends and neighbors.  Today’s environment is different.  The person behind the video above understands that it doesn’t take a big dollar donation to get your point across anymore.

The right way to lose

It isn’t going out on a limb to say that Len Britton likely won’t beat Patrick Leahy to become the next U.S. Senator from Vermont.  But he has used a couple of campaign videos to point out the problem of government overspending, and who foots the bill:

In another video, the creepy government guy hands Billy and his family a check for their share of the national debt.  When Billy points out that it’s a lot of money, creepy government guy taunts, “Better get a paper route, Billy!”

The videos have received national attention, because they deliver a message in a creative, funny way.  They’re also excellent examples of the right way to run an extremely uphill race.

I’m not very familiar with Britton’s campaign, so he could be an insane, foil hat-wearing Lyndon Larouche backer who thinks that the destruction of the Death Star was God’s revenge for the Empire’s tolerance of same-sex Jawa marriage.  But based on this limited sample, Britton uses his underdog status to make his point in a way that would scare off many campaigns in the thick of a close race. If Britton were to drop this strategy to rant about the President’s birth certificate, Sarah Palin’s baby, or some other conspiracy theory for the deranged the damage to his personal credibility will be dwarfed by the damage he does to the Republican brand.

Britton may wind up underfunded, and his videos may be limited to their viral appeal, and it may not be enough to keep Leahy from wiping the floor with him come November.  But this isn’t the last election in Vermont, so this video and the messages it carries can still set the table for victory – even if it isn’t until Billy’s old enough to vote.

LeBron James owns the message

Politicians are clamming up, Politico says, because they’re worried about becoming the next YouTube sensation.  Candidates are refusing to talk to camera-wielding activist journalists.  With more communications channels than ever, politicians are opting not to use them:

“The irony is that in an political environment in which voters are demanding authenticity, candidates find themselves in a technological environment that exploits authenticity,” lamented Mark McKinnon, a longtime political strategist and top adviser to George W. Bush and John McCain. “So rather than show more of themselves as voters want, candidates are showing less of themselves for fear of revealing too much.”

This is probably better than speaking off the cuff and apologizing for gaffes, but it isn’t a winning strategy.   These would-be-elected-officials would do well to take their advice from a monarch: King LeBron James, the most popular man in sports, and the subject of a much-criticized special on ESPN in a couple hours.

When James’ decision on where to play next year is finally revealed tonight, a new chapter will start in his professional life – not only as the signature star of the NBA, but as a player expected to win a championship.  Joel Sherman of the New York Post likens James’ situation to that of Alex Rodriguez, who used to be the best player ever to not win a championship. He’ll have plenty of questions, and will be the closest thing the sports world has to a politician for a week.

That’s why the ESPN special is a fantastic idea.

James is announcing his signing in an hour long special, and according to ESPN radio this morning, the big news will come in the first 15 minutes.  That means there will be 45 minutes where James will discuss his decision in the controlled, traditional, and respectful environment of ESPN.  That discussion will fuel tomorrow’s bloggers and drive-time hosts, and will extend into weekend coverage.

And most of it will echo the things James wants out there.  He’s answering demand by engaging in media overload.  In doing so, the King will rule over the message.

Now, if only LeBron would take control of the Knicks in the same way…

Hunting Macaca

Politico’s headline “Democrats seek ‘Macaca moments” aptly describes the DNC’s new Accountability Project, which invites citizens to record and upload videos of Republican politicians saying dumb things.

Because it’s actually a good idea, this has resulted in some hand-wringing on the right amid fears that Democrats are better at grassroots internetting than Republicans.  But that ignores why this is a good idea: the Accountability Project is a national aggregator and message device.  It seeks to crowdsource the Democrats’ messaging to take to most loony Republicans they can find and hold them up as the standard.  It is a pretty clear attempt to re-gain the reins of the national policy debate, which have slipped through the Democrats’ fingers in the past few months.

All that said, by driving messages that show the Republicans are out of touch, Democrats will save their skin and keep control in November.  (They may have done so anyway, but a few macaca moments will help curb GOP momentum.)

So how to combat this?  It’s pretty easy.

Republicans have cameras too, and Democrats are just as prone to saying and doing stupid stuff in front of those cameras.  What if some enterprising conservative with a flip cam catches them in a gaffe, then uploads the video?  It would seem the obvious way to hold the Accountability Project accountable.

It’s still better than WGN

Looking to keep stories about the White House’s dabbling in primary elections alive, the RNC launched the “Obama Chicago Network” in an email to supporters this afternoon.

The site boasts four “shows” that deal with various negative stories surrounding the Sestak/Romanoff could-have-been-bribery affairs, plus Rod Blagojevich thrown in for fun:

Even if it is somewhat dated in the pop culture references (some of the shows they are spoofing are past their prime or canceled), it’s pretty funny, makes good use of news clips, and has a poll to collect people’s contact information.  With Blagojevich in the news, it does a good job of tying the administration As a lead generator, the site is good, but it’s missing something that could make it a really useful tool for Republican messaging: a section where users could “pitch” their own shows.  Not only is audience participation a good thing, but it might make for some must-see TV.

You might want to enable these cookies…

An enterprising Rhode Island School of Design student figured out how to bake cookies that make webcams do tricks:

Augmented reality is a pretty neat trick, using markers picked up by webcams (or cameras on mobile devices) to display images that others can’t see.  This has been around for a while, but it usually required some type of narcotic substance; now it can be harnessed through technology without ingesting hallucinogens.

With smartphones becoming a hub of political activist activity, the next question is: how does the next “revolutionary” campaign use this technology?

The easiest way will be to turn lawn signs and other advertisements into instant sources of new information.  The typical lawn sign is pretty simple: it has a name and, maybe, a slogan but little else.  Augmented reality would allow passers by to point their iPhone or other mobile device and instantly have access to a much broader range of text and information.

But for many campaign operatives, the more fun part might be finding a way to piggyback messages about an opponent onto his or her own signs – the messaging equivalent of Bugs Bunny drawing a mustache on a wanted poster of Yosemite Sam.

An American Macaca in London

Just days away from an election, Gordon Brown pulled a George Allen.

The similarities go deeper than off-the-cuff comments caught on tape during a campaign.

In each case, the comments helped underscore the impressions opposing candidates wanted voters to have of the offending candidates.  In 2006, Jim Webb and Co. would have loved for northern Virginia voters to think of their incumbent Senator as a southern”good ol’ boy” with questionable opinions on race.  That’s not the type of charge a serious candidate can credibly level against a candidate without strong evidence; Allen made it easy when he unwittingly uttered a word that sounded like an ethnic slur.

Similarly, opponents of Brown’s Labour Party could have complained that the Prime Minister was out of touch with ordinary Americans (or however that argument goes over there), but Brown has made it exponentially easy by callously dismissing the concerns of a voter. The snide attitude and duplicitous nature make Brown the stereotypical career politician – aloof, self-aggrandizing, and contemptuous of the constituents underneath him.

The only thing going for Brown is that, at the very least, he didn’t know he was on tape.

Hitler finds out he’s pulled from YouTube

Downfall is the movie about the final days of the Third Reich.  But of course, many of us know it for its climatic scene of Adolf Hitler’s bunker tantrum – which has been re-subtitled on YouTube to make Hitler rant about HD-DVD losing to Blu-ray, his car getting stolen, the Cowboys losing to the Giants in the 2007 playoffs, and even everyone forgetting his birthday.

Coming soon: Hitler finds out that Constantin Films, which owns the rights to Downfall, is pulling the clips from YouTube.

While it should be well within their right to do so, is this the smartest business move for the film company?  Recall that Chris Brown (before his alleged domestic violence incident made him untouchable) was able to use a viral video of a wedding party dancing to one of his songs to sell mp3 downloads.

I added Downfall to my Netflix queue last month just because of the Hitler parodies – how many DVD sales is Constantin missing out on?

3 Reasons why Conan made the right move

The internets lit up as soon as the announcement hit (which, oddly enough, happened on Dave Letterman’s birthday): Conan O’Brien is headed to TBS as soon as his contractually obligated silence is up.  The basic cable station won out over Fox, which was the place O’Brien was widely rumored to head since it was first announced that NBC was bumping him out of the 11:30 time slot. That led to some head scratching, though it makes a lot of sense for three big reasons:

1.  Turner properties offer valuable opportunities for cross-promotion. O’Brien was always positioned as the host with the younger audience, and Turner is well positioned to reach that audience. Not only does TBS airs three hours of Family Guy on Monday nights (leading right into the time slot O’Brien will occupy), but Turner’s cable properties have been at the forefront of providing television-quality online video – first with the now-defunct website SuperDeluxe and now on both TBS.com and AdultSwim.com.

The real underrated asset in this deal isn’t online though – it’s the cross-promotional opportunity with Cartoon Network, whose Adult Swim shares some of the same audience as O’Brien.  While it would appear that sets up a tough intra-company competition, that isn’t exactly the case because of the second reason TBS and O’Brien are a great fit.

2.  TBS offers time slot flexibility no other network will. This isn’t just about getting a half-hour jump on Jay Leno and Dave Letterman; Fox could offer the 11:00 p.m. time slot, too.   But after the 11:00 showing of O’Brien’s show, and the 12:00 airing of George Lopez’s program, TBS will have the 1:00 p.m. time slot to fill.

What’s going on at 1:00 a.m.?  Jimmy Fallon’s Late Night show and Craig Ferguson’s Late Late Show have moved from comedy bits into guests.  Comedy Central is replaying their 11:00-midnight programming (The Daily Show and the Colbert Report).  Adult Swim is getting into its final hour, which features shorter cartoons that aren’t as popular as Family Guy and Robot Chicken – and, let’s be honest, really target the stoner market (have you ever tried to make sense of 12 oz. Mouse?).  And remember those hypothetical college kids who media analysts claimed stayed out too late to catch O’Brien’s Tonight Show?  The 1:00 a.m. slot is a lot closer to last call.

On TBS, O’Brien could wind up with two chances to rope in an audience – so even if more people watch Leno between 11:30 and midnight, O’Brien has a better chance to snag viewers from 11:00-11:30 p.m. and 1:00-2:00 a.m., rack up big viewership numbers, and claim victory on sheer volume even while Leno wins the 11:30 time slot.

3.  TBS straddles the line between cable and network television. This is important because, for as edgy as O’Brien is credited as being, he’s quite traditional in many ways.  With a pedigree in Saturday Night Live, the Tonight Show, the Simpsons, and even Late Night, O’Brien’s signature projects have counted their runs in decades rather than seasons.

TBS is pretty much a network television station in two important ways.  First, its mix of original and syndicated programming mimic most Fox affiliates.  The big difference is that TBS is still searching for signature, cornerstone shows to build a prime time schedule around as Fox found with Married with Children in the late 1980s and the Simpsons in the early 1990s.  (Notably, Fox built a solid prime time audience but could never keep them around for late night; TBS seems to be building in the opposite direction.)  Second, TBS is nearly ubiquitous – among the most basic of basic cable stations.

At the same time, cable (even basic cable) offers some level of freedom that escapes over-the-air network television.  Being on cable at 11:00 may offer the same creative outlet as being on at 12:30 on network television, when O’Brien shined to begin with.

TBS offers these benefits with a final caveat: because it’s cable, measures of success will be different.  It will be easier to become the top-rated original program in TBS’s history than to hold that same position with Fox. After all, the difference between victory or defeat is often a matter of expectations met or missed.