The Old Spice guy and iPad ads might be revolutionizing campaign ads, with candidates capitalizing on Internet memes to gain "viral votes." But in the age of YouTube, there's a huge potential downside for novice politicos with online videos: unintentional virality.
What might not have grabbed headlines on CNN—the smallest flub or faux pas—can make the rounds on social media in rapid fire. Clips that might seem innocent to politicians are e-mail forward fodder to a whole new generation of voters.
Think of Howard Dean's famous scream following his 2004 loss in the Iowa primary. Decades ago, this wouldn't have caused a peep, but in today's media landscape pundits his jarring howl dominated an entire news cycle. This process is severely exacerbated by the Web. Even in 2004, before YouTube and Facebook, the scream was endlessly blogged, remixed and mashed-up. Nowadays, candidates must be more careful than ever.
Which is why it's alarming that so many campaigns seem oblivious to the potential harm of going viral. Take Delaware Senate candidate Christine O'Donnell, who has been plagued by endless embarrassing clips from her past surfacing on YouTube. Her response? The "I'm Not a Witch" ad. Strip away the context and the clip is just weird enough to satisfy Web appetites. It has rocketed in popularity thanks to social media, racking up hundreds of thousands of views.
Then there's Dale Peterson, whose tough-talking campaign ad for Alabama Agriculture Commissioner makes his oddball clip number one with a bullet. It has garnered more than 1.8 million views. Maybe it's his badass cowboy hat, or the way he tears off his aviators and ensnares you with his rugged looks, or his accent, or his shotgun, or the line "They don't give rip!" Any somewhat social media savvy person could've predicted this clip was destined for viral superstardom. Dale Peterson—though you wouldn't dare say this to his face—appears oblivious.
California nominee for Senate Carly Fiorina didn't hold back with her infamous "Demon Sheep" video, which is closing in on a half-million views.
And who could forget Florida rep. Mike Weinstein, who — well, it's unclear what generation he's trying to reach. This is Kenny Loggins meets Huey Lewis, but with no regard for the News, or how modern-day news viewers tear this kind of performance apart online.
Learn from your mistakes, candidates. These viral videos are garnering votes, alright — but for your opponent.