March 11, 2005


Can Campaigns Profit From Online Irreverence? (Robert MacMillan, March 11, 2005,

For nearly a decade now, the Internet has proved accommodating as well as frustrating to political imagemakers and idolmakers who puzzle over the question of how cyberspace can propel their candidates ahead of the competition and into office.

This question will rise again at the Politics Online Conference in Washington. The conference, in its 12th year, invites campaign professionals to thrash and hash over the best way to harness the Internet as the 21st-century candidate's ace of spades.

The roll of speakers and panelists usually consists of political professionals, online-journalism bigwigs and political bloggers. This year's gathering, which started Thursday afternoon and runs through today at The George Washington University in Washington, will see an unusual guest at this morning's session -- Gregg Spiridellis, who with brother Evan co-founded JibJab Inc. and co-composed (and co-performed) the animated music video "This Land Is Your Land."

Featuring cavorting caricatures of Sen. John F. Kerry and President Bush singing a demented version of the eponymous song, the cartoon ricocheted virus-like across the Internet in July. In a genre-jumping twist, "This Land" made enough news that it received mega-exposure on TV and radio and turned the brothers into accidental experts in political marketing.

And how could it not have? It's the kind of marketing that campaign managers dream about: Whip up a sassy, silly video for a few thousand dollars and watch it spread at the speed of light until it's getting prominently displayed on TV. Say hello to Letterman, Leno and the whole battery of those popular morning "news" programs -- round-the-clock exposure for a fraction of what it would cost to buy that kind of screen time.

Gregg Spiridellis conceded that "This Land's" success was blind luck, as his and brother Evan's interest in politics is "far secondary to our interest in entertainment." Their previous videos -- including a brilliant hip-hop-style lesson on the Declaration of Independence -- take their cue from the 1970s Saturday-morning Schoolhouse Rock shorts like "I'm Just a Bill," but with a way bigger dose of hip. The Spiridellis' cartoons are fun and educational, but the brothers are not trying to make a career in politics.

That didn't seem to bother the organizers of the Politics Online Conference, where the key question is whether "This Land" can translate into the solid-tie/blue-blazer, baby-smooching, whistle-stop bread-and-butter strategies of the old-time politicos' playbooks.

Because liberals view life as a tragedy and conservatives as a comedy, this can only help the GOP.

Posted by Orrin Judd at March 11, 2005 9:51 AM

I thought their 2000 campaign animation with Al Gore and W doing rap (yes, rap!) was simply brilliant.

Posted by: Mike Morley at March 11, 2005 10:08 AM

It's the Swift Boat vets gambit, but with a commic message. Political campaigns are going to be transformed by: the free, ubiquitous transmission of the internet, blog nodes to catch, amplify, and boost circulation of material on the net, and the low-to-no cost of making digital products.

Posted by: Luciferous at March 11, 2005 12:26 PM

The marketers don't get it. They can't harvest such phenomena, there is no way to predict, let alone control, where or when such attention-grabbing events will break through to universal consciousness. The internet, unlike network TV, is unprogrammable. The best strategy is to have a good candidate.

Posted by: Robert Duquette at March 13, 2005 11:03 AM

I would not say that your hero J. Edwards regarded life as a comedy.

Posted by: Harry Eagar at March 15, 2005 2:43 AM

If you made Sinners in the Hands into a film you'd use Harold Lloyd or Charlie Chaplin as the sinner, no?

Posted by: oj at March 15, 2005 7:36 AM