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Election fever

May 2015

As the general election races towards us, as unstoppable (and possibly as unwelcome) as an oncoming train, the parties have been chasing our votes through the internet.  There has been targeted advertising on Facebook and the lots of videos, including the negative advertising videos which are commonplace in America but illegal on British television.  The internet neatly sidesteps this law.

Large sums are involved.  In February it emerged that the Conservatives had been spending over £100,000 each month on Facebook nationally, and over £3,000 each month on local campaigns.  Labour do it too, probably spending much less, but watch this space.  What’s more, if politicians are pumping that sort of money into Facebook, you can bet that they are spreading similar sums on other online advertising networks.

You might ask what the money buys; it’s all very cunning.

They are paying to send messages only to users who fit particular criteria: perhaps their age, address, gender, or particular internet habits.  In this way a political party (or any pressure group with deep pockets) can try to send a message only to the people who will find it most persuasive. 

However, in my view, the most effective online pre-election effort will be the short, punchy and often attacking video adverts; they are put together fast and cheaply, then promoted on Facebook, email, Twitter and elsewhere.  They are an innovation here, and one that the internet makes possible.  When the laws making it illegal to broadcast such stuff on television were drafted, YouTube didn’t exist.

These short videos are sometimes positive but often fairly brutal, even tasteless, and pull few punches.  They are usually well under 60 seconds and owe more to the advertising world than the world of informed debate; they try to be striking enough to encourage you to pass them on, and possibly even to be reported on the broadcast news.

It is a platform which can allow very fast “rapid response” videos as the campaigns develop; they are far more effective than a traditional press release, as they can reach voters directly, without any filtering news medium.  Even if they don’t get reported, they can be very effective in turning the reporters’ and commentators’ heads in the direction the video is pointing.

As I write, the Conservatives have been the most active, but I fully expect Labour to step up their game, not least because they have hired one of President Obama’s most senior YouTube experts, who worked to great effect on the 2012 Presidential campaign. 

There is one cheerful bit of news.  It is generally accepted that the holy grail of internet video marketing is a posting that “goes viral”; that is, people enjoy it enough to pass it onto their friends, who then do the same thing, bringing the sort of exposure that money just can’t buy.

The cheerful news is that the videos that achieve this end are usually the funny ones; so, whilst we are forced to put up with them bombarding us with reasons to vote for them, at least there is a chance they might occasionally seek to entertain us while they are doing it.

As I come across these videos, whoever has created them, and provided they are not too distasteful, I will put them here.  If politics interest you, I’d keep an eye on it – the gloves are off.