[Note: This post is an observation and opinion piece about political advertising and is not any sort of endorsement. Disclosure: I have not stated anywhere publicly who I will vote (actually, "voted" as I did so early) for in the Tuesday presidential primary in Tennessee. And while I voted for a candidate, I have not made any contributions to any campaign and will remain undecided about November until the parties have selected their candidates. Note: See update at the end of this post.]
When I was a kid in the 1960s, every candidate for office had a campaign jingle. JFK’s campaign had one and, well, while it was a little before my time, perhaps the most famous early TV political campaign jingle was the one called, I Like Ike. Like commercial jingles for consumer products, the campaign jingle has been replaced with theme songs borrowed from pop or country repertoires of “classic hits.” But every campaign still has a song. And music is a part of every campaign stop of every candidate.
It’s rare, however, to witness the birth of a new genre of presidential political campaign advertising music. (And by “advertising,” I’m not referring to the narrow interpretation of advertising that would limit it to :30 or :60 second spots.) But that’s what we’re getting this weekend. With this video below, I think we’re witnessing a new genre of campaign song: One that blends the passion and striped down message and cadance of sixties protest-movement grassroots folk songs with “cause-jingles” of the 70’s (“Look for the Union Label”) and the slickly-produced commercial anthems that accompanied such 1980s events as “Live-aid.”
The result is this anthem which is perhaps some of the most brilliant use of music in a presidential campaign I’ve ever heard or seen (see embedded video.)
I can understand why a Clinton-supporter like my friend, Jeff Jarvis would want to dismiss this video as “only (underscoring) the notion that Obama’s campaign is the most rhetorical of the bunch: speeches and slogans so neat they can fit in 4/4 time.” That’s the equivalent of when your parents told you that rock music would turn your brain into mush. To me, it only underscores how remarkably rare it is to witness a break-through idea in the use of new media in politics. This is not “user-generated” or “amateur” media — the people who conceived, created, produced and appear on it are all pros at the top of their game. However, I predict that within the next 24 hours, you’ll see the beginnings of a flood of mashup versions in which college students and singer-songwriters and others will produce their own versions. And that’s when we’ll start to understand what this music is really about.
Another “break-through” aspect of this music video must also be its financing. While the producers claim not to know whether or not the Obama campaign even knows about it, the value it brings to the campaign will sky-rocket. It’s a little like the off-books value of “an endorsement,” except in this case, the endorsement is in the form of something that has the value of those Mastercard ads: Priceless.
More about the video: ABC News: Stars Come Out for Obama Music Video.
Update: I have seen some blog posts saying the ad is from Moveon.org. The video does not have any information on it regarding that organization as a source — which it must disclose. Obviously, the financing of the production — if by Moveon.org — would be covered under the laws pertaining to 527 Groups. I’ve looked on the Moveon.org site and they, indeed, have endorsed Obama and are promoting the video — but there’s nothing there about them creating the video. While I’m no fan of Moveon.org, I still think this ad is amazing — sorta like when I enjoy an Oliver Stone movie.
Update II: S-town Mike (thanks) provided in a comment below, an e-mail from Moveon.org that promotes the video, but indicates it was neither funded or produced by the organization. Rather it echos what the ABC News piece above reports: it was conceived and produced will.i.am of the Black Eyed Peas and film director Jesse Dylan, son of Bob Dylan.
Update III: When I said, “within the next 24 hours, you’ll see the beginnings of a flood of mashup versions in which college students and singer-songwriters and others will produce their own versions. And that’s when we’ll start to understand what this music is really about,” this is what I meant. I’m sure we’ll see it done a lot better — and a lot worse. And after seeing this, I can also predict it will be subject to some really hilarious parodies, as well.