Creatives Have a Crush on Obama

Other Candidates Get Free Consumer-Created Media; Barack's Just Happen to Be Made by Smitten Ad Pros

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NEW YORK (AdAge.com) -- Perhaps the most viewed bit of political advertising this campaign season is a four-minute-plus video for Barack Obama. "Yes We Can" -- a slick, celebrity-filled spot that has garnered more than 10 million online views -- was created by professionals. But none of them work for the Obama campaign.
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Illustration: Shepard Fairey

Pro bono: Urban artist and guerrilla marketer Shepard Fairey created this poster.

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Whether it will sway the outcome of the presidential race no one can know, but the ad certainly seems to encapsulate the fact that Mr. Obama has emerged as the darling of the advertising world's creative set. While Hillary Clinton and other candidates pay top dollar for ads and the bulk of their consumer-generated fare leaves much to be desired, Mr. Obama has benefited from free, consumer-created marketing. Many of the consumers in Obama's case just happen to be professional creatives.

"Yes We Can" is the most successful result so far. The star-studded music video is written and produced by Black-Eyed Peas frontman Will.i.am, Jesse Dylan (son of Bob) and Mike Jurkovac. Mr. Jurkovac, a former VP-director of integration at FCB, now heads New York-based Cyclops. "Yes We Can" is a mashup -- a song inspired by Mr. Obama overlapping one of his speeches -- and it's been the No. 1 viral video on the net practically since its launch. According to Viral Video Chart, at press time it had garnered 10,540,006 views.

Music videos
But that's not the only one. There's also "Hope Changes Everything," an Obama-as-rockstar video tribute created by Eric Hirshberg, president-chief creative officer of Deutsch, Los Angeles. (Story continues after video)



And who could forget last summer's Obama Girl videos, courtesy of a group that included Ben Relles, who was once a staffer at Omnicom Group's Agency.com?

More recently, Hispanic-targeted viral efforts hawking Mr. Obama have surfaced too. Reggaeton and Mariachi-style songs (which come in ringtone and MP3 formats) were created by Miguel Orozco, the president of Nueva Vista Media, a creative digital firm based in Los Angeles and Chicago. And though Mr. Obama is putting a heavy focus on the Hispanic market in Texas, Mr. Orozco said he's never had any official interaction with the campaign.

To be sure, the other candidates have professionals on their side. Mr. Obama's opponent counts GSD&M Idea City's Roy Spence and Amalgamated's Charles Rosen among her camp. But those folks work in a more traditional role, standing by the candidate's side. The Obama campaign's official agencies are AKP&D Message and Media and GMMB. And, showing at least one aspect of the traditional campaign, neither agency would comment as the Obama camp had requested that its official shops keep silent.

But there's still a good bit of freelancers out there toiling away for the man.

Easy to get behind
The question is: Why? The answer seems to be a mix of inspiration and an easy-to-define brand.

"His politics fall perfectly in line with what I do as an artist," said urban artist and guerrilla marketer Shepard Fairey, an Obama fan since 2004 who offered his endorsement via a striking poster series. "In advertising and marketing, things are simplified to accentuate the positive and utilize soundbites that are really powerful; it's about economical communications, and [Barack Obama] is really good at that," said Mr. Fairey. "That type of approach to politics -- when it seems like he really has conviction, too -- is really easy to distill down to marketable images. It felt really easy for me to make a poster for him."

After Mr. Fairey's poster series gained attention, he was approached by the Obama camp to execute another illustration -- this time based on a photo of the campaign's choosing -- for a poster that will be unveiled this week. Mr. Fairey wasn't paid for any of this work.

"This is a guy who speaks in poetry -- he's a wide-open canvas and really right for making incredibly moving and incredibly inspiring work," said John Dukakis, the son of former Massachusetts governor and 1998 Democratic presidential hopeful Michael Dukakis, who serves as senior VP-branded entertainment at Boston ad agency Hill Holliday. It's no surprise that "creative folks, who are constantly looking for things to do on their own that are fun, interesting and even historic," find themselves attracted to Mr. Obama.

'Well-defined brand'
The fact that Mr. Obama "behaves like a well-defined brand" probably has something to do with why advertising and marketing creative types are attracted to him more so than other candidates, said Mr. Hirshberg. He said he has more viral work backing the candidate in the pipeline.
Obama as rock star: 'Hope Changes Everything' viral by Deutch's Eric Hirshberg.
Obama as rock star: 'Hope Changes Everything' viral by Deutch's Eric Hirshberg.

According to web-analytics firm Compete, Mr. Obama trounced the competition in January web "FaceTime" (a metric measuring total online time "with the public," taking into consideration sites such as Facebook, YouTube, MySpace and others beyond a candidate's traditional website). Mr. Obama grabbed 60% of his party's FaceTime -- nearly triple Ms. Clinton's attention -- and on YouTube a 36 to 1 margin over Republican candidate John McCain.

But buzzworthy doesn't always necessarily translate into votes. In terms of online buzz, Ron Paul was a hot item this election cycle. And it was reported that Obama Girl herself (model Amber Lee Ettinger) couldn't be bothered to drag herself out to vote for the very same candidate whose praises she seductively lip-synched.

The difference between Barack Obama and previous online candidates such as Howard Dean is that Mr. Obama is doing just as well in the non-web world. And more important, this time around the youthful side of the web crowd is actually turning up to vote.

"We've seen in the primaries already a large section of brand-new voters, and these are people in large part who are inspired by Obama's message, and they're getting it not by watching the network news, but from the internet," Mr. Dukakis said. "They once called John Kennedy the first television president, and I think it's fair to predict that Obama could turn out to be the first internet president."

Of course, he's got to make it to the White House first.



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CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story listed SS&K and GMMB as Barack Obama's official agencies. AKP&D Message and Media and GMMB are the primary agencies on the account.
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