Entering the third presidential election in the Age of the Blog, you’d think that people might stop marveling at the epoch-making power of the Internet, and just accept that this new(ish) form of media is influential, it’s here to stay, and most importantly, it matters.
But that doesn’t mean that everything Web 2.0 touches is gold. Take for example an online ad the campaign of Democratic presidential hopeful Bill Richardson unveiled earlier this week. It was posted to YouTube on May 8, and as of this morning had over 37,000 views. Not bad, and it sure is a hell of a lot cheaper than trying to run national TV spots. Of course, those 37,000 views still pale in comparison to the 1.9 million views a video of a drunken David Hasselhoff eating a hamburger recently racked up on YouTube. (Ah, the Internet…the last great hope for an informed citizenry.)
We’ll admit, comparing the two clips isn’t necessarily fair, since we all know that most people would rather watch celebrity-related schlock than a campaign commercial any day. But still, there’s something to be said about Richardson placing the ads online (which isn’t exactly a sea change in how this incessantly blogged election is shaping up, but the ads are generating enough buzzthat they’re making some people, shall we say, uncomfortable.) Kevin Drum summed it up nicely yesterday when he wrote that it’s only a matter of time before the ads “go viral” and eventually The New York Times will write another thumbsucker about the power of new media, complete with chin-scratching quotes from Jay Rosen and Jeff Jarvis.” Or as Wonkette joked, “Every single campaign director and political reporter and media specialist and pollster is currently slumped in their chair, slack-jawed, wondering what it all means.”
Since we can scratch our chins along with the best of ‘em, here’s our shot: it doesn’t really mean anything. It’s not like the spots were made specifically for the Web. The Richardson campaign took out a one-week, $110,000 ad buy in Iowa yesterday, where the same commercials will run on local television. Odds are, more than 37,000 people will see the ads in Iowa, though of course, more than that will probably see the ads thanks to bloggers like Drum, who embed the video on their sites.
All this means is that by making the ads available on the Web, more people will see them (and for free) than would have in those dark, pre-Web days. That’s great for campaigns, but as the Richardson TV ad buy shows, the American political machine is still a long, long way from hitching its star to the Internet.
The Christian Science Monitor’s Dante Chinni touched on this earlier this week, writing that despite the fact that “a growing democracy in media is allowing people and candidates to go around the old news sources,” these old news sources still are a long way from extinction. For all the blogs and YouTube ads, elections are still decided by which candidate can raise the most money, which one has the support of his or her party, and, as Chinni says, “old-media press coverage,” since the vast majority of Americans still get their news from television and newspapers.
Ads on the Web are great, and we’re sure that this election season will see plenty of ink spilled about “Web 2.0” and the effect it has on the election. But in the end, the battle is still going to be fought—for better or worse—in the old media, which will undoubtedly be fact-checked and corrected by “new media” every step of the way. Just don’t look for Richardson to surpass Hasselhoff any time soon.