Everything You Know About Viral Video Is Wrong

At least that’s the word from a guy who should know. Arun Chaudhary, Barack Obama’s director of video field production, has helped the campaign to post more than 1000 videos on YouTube as well as capture footage for TV ads, news clips and everything else.

After taking leave from his day job as an adjunct professor at NYU’s film school to work for the candidate, he returned to the university last night in his first public appearance, sponsored by frog design and Fast Company. Chaudhary spoke to a packed crowd about the use of video by political campaigns in an age when everything is documented and how that is impacting the political process.

The one hour chat was moderated by Fast Company senior writer Ellen McGirt,  who reported on the campaign in the April 2008 cover story “The Brand Called Obama.” There were a lot of great gems, but I wanted to focus on two things Chaudhary said.

The first was the example he gave of Hilary Clinton’s 3 AM ad:

When the ad aired, it turned out that the sleeping girl in the stock footage the campaign used was actually an Obama supporter. Four years ago, there was little you could do to get that message out. But Chaudhary’s team found the girl, Casey, and put together a YouTube video. At one minute, it was still too expensive for TV, but it had the opportunity to spread online:

As the campaign moved forward and the YouTube channel became a destination to post footage from Obama’s speeches and appearances, the community started talking back. Comments below the posts, emails to the new media team and general feedback at events yielded two findings:

  1. The audience for the YouTube video skewed towards an older demographic – 45-55 year olds — not the typical 18-34 age group most people expect to find on YouTube.
  2. People didn’t want short, edited clips. They wanted to watch the whole video.

What? People want to watch long form videos?!?!  Chaudhary went on to say that based on what they’ve heard from the community, people aren’t interested in sound bites and clever edits. According to the numbers, full speeches at important moments are underestimated. That might be unique to the political process, where people want more context as every quote has the potential to be politicized (ask Jesse Jackson). But I don’t think so.

Key takeaways:

  • People want transparency
  • Don’t make assumptions about your audience – listen first!
  • You never know which moments people will respond to, so test and test and test. You might be surprised by the outcome.

What say you?

146 thoughts on “Everything You Know About Viral Video Is Wrong

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