Marketing Election '08: Q&A With Laura Crawford, The RNC's Loaded Gun

Full-length interview with Laura Crawford, 35, who created the RNC's 11-minute John Kerry "Flip-Flop" video in 2004. Now she's producing all of the RNC's viral and TV campaigns and running campaignads.org.

FC: Are you working for any candidate specifically, or still for the RNC?

Crawford: I'll be campaigning for the ’08 election by creating, producing and editing RNC ads for the Web and TV. I'm a one-woman production shop. I do both TV and viral campaigns, but when it comes to these campaigns we're doing more viral these days than television ads.

FC: Can you take me through what you did in '04?

Crawford: If one of the Democrats said something that we needed to get out there, something we could use to show the American public what they're saying, we would creatively come up with a Web video idea, often using humor so it would have a viral effect. We'd create a Web video that was around 60 seconds or 2 minutes or so, post in on their site, and then send an e-mail blast to all of the supporters and encourage people to pass it along.

These pieces don't always have to be negative, although they often are. What many people don't know is that when we produce these pieces they go through legal scrutiny before we're allowed to put anything out there.

FC: How does something become viral?

Crawford: We try to go the entertaining route most times because then we're reaching people who otherwise wouldn't search for Web video from the RNC.

FC: You created the 11-minute John Kerry flip-flop video in 2004 -- what was the story behind how that came to be?

Crawford: Jim Dyke -- the communications director at the RNC -- had a collection of John Kerry video clips past to present that went all the way back to the early '90s and were all about the Iraq war. When we saw Kerry speaking on television we thought that he really wasn't consistent with what he said before. We decided that we needed to expose this to the American public -- what he really felt for an entire 10 years about Sadaam Hussein.

The only way to show so many clips was to create some sort of timeline. I was thinking about it, and I thought timelines were boring, so I grabbed a still of a calendar off my computer and animated going from day-to-day to day to show these clips. It started out very simple, at probably only three or four minutes, but then every day he'd say something new about the Iraq war that was different than what he had said previously, so it ended up being 16 minutes.

FC: How does the impact of online video compare with that of TV ads? Are TV ads losing power?

Crawford: In my opinion, for '08 there will still be network advertising. One thing we can't forget is that there are a lot of people out there who still don't have computers and online access. So there's still that population out there that we have to reach and we're going to reach them through traditional advertising. I know this might be a stretch because a lot can happen in 4 years obviously, but I still think we’ll have network advertising in 2012.

For now, there's definitely a hunger for the type of Web stuff we're doing, I mean people enjoy looking at that stuff and passing it along. With the user-generated tools on campaignads.org they're making their own ads. The goal for us is to attract real political ads, not like YouTube at all. These ads are going to be 30 or 60 seconds long, and if they're powerful enough we're going to air them on television. There will be a voting module enabling people to vote for their favorites, and those votes will decide which ads go on TV.

FC: Are these ads for Republicans only?

Crawford: It's bipartisan, actually I should say multi-partisan really because some people aren't going to vote Democrat or Republican. If the DNC produces an ad that's 30 or 60 seconds, they're fully welcome to post it on the site. The ads that end up airing on TV are paid for by campaignads.org, which is not affiliated with any party whatsoever. In terms of the financial aspect, we're going to invite people to put money behind the ads through a payment module. Once an ad earns enough money we'll air it on TV.

FC: It seems like there's such a clutter of information online, it's harder to break through -- what sort of approach do you think you will adopt to circumvent this?

Crawford: Breaking through the clutter is going to be difficult for everybody. The whole YouTube explosion, UGC explosion, it's changed everything, and there are both plusses and minuses. On one hand, it gives candidates more exposure because you have more people making ads. On the other hand, the campaign messages are going to be diluted. There's a reason campaign advertising is strategically thought out, and there's a reason why there are political media advisors out there: a candidate should not put out more than five messages because people have to digest this information. UGC is going to dilute message and force candidates to be on the defensive. I'm predicting that candidates and their campaign advertising will trend towards going positive because the online airwaves will be flooded with negative ads. That actually might be the biggest plus out of it all.

FC: What’s your take on the idea that Republicans are light-years behind the Democrats in harnessing the power of the Internet?

Crawford: I don't know exactly why that is, but it's undeniable that the left has more of an online presence than the right. I hate to stereotype but it's very hard to find a Republican who does ad work. I hope that doesn't sound stereotypical, but it's true. I can't go anywhere as a creative professional and find someone who's conservative. A lot of times it's even difficult for me to find help. I hope there are more out there and I hope through the site we'll find some conservative creative talent. I know for a fact that when we launch it it’s going to be very heavily skewed left because of that whole dynamic of creative professionals. On the flip side, there are too many messages out there on the left -- there is currently more message discipline on the right.

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