Yes, we might be able to...

Do you remember the summer of 2008? Not the Olympics in China or the fact that you couldn’t afford a holiday due to the economic collapse. I mean the sensation of the Internet that summer – Will.i.am and his star-studded video ‘Yes we can’, released first on the social networks and then promptly exploding on to the breakfast shows and front pages soon after.

Many believe his video changed the course of the 2008 presidential election in the United States. It took political rhetoric and placed it squarely into popular culture. Obama’s words were being spoken by familiar, friendly faces, so-and-so from that movie or the guy from that band.
But here we are in the UK with just a few months to run to a general election. The incumbent party is fighting for their life thanks to a series of non-stop issues ranging from the legality of the war in Iraq to the expenses scandal. Have they adopted video or other social tools as a way of getting their own message out to younger voters, who probably are not bothered about voting anyway?
Well, not really. It’s less of the yes we can and more of the um, yes we might be able to survive. The Labour Party does have a channel on Youtube and they are publishing materials, but the minister for International Development has only attracted a few hundred hits for his video on the crisis in Haiti, and even celebrity endorsement from the likes of Eddie Izzard has failed to get more than 2,000 viewers in more than a month.
The Conservative party fares better. They even crowdsourced a snazzy name for their video channel – WebCameron. Their videos are still primarily led by politicians talking on particular issues, but they tend to focus on the party leader David Cameron and London Mayor, Boris Johnson. Both are very comfortable in front of the camera and come across in a more open, approachable, conversational way than the Labour videos.
The Liberal Democrats add nothing further to the mix. A collection of talking heads and the occasional celebrity endorsement.
There was a time when musicians did actually care about politics, and regular pop music contained strong messages that encouraged social change. Think of Rock against Racism, Red Wedge, even Bob Geldof’s Live Aid franchise. These artists used music and video to ram home whatever political view was pressing at the time.
It happened again the USA in 2008. Artists used multimedia channels to engage a new audience and potentially change their political system. But from a scan of the content being created in the UK at present there doesn’t seem to be anything coming from the political parties, or from any more subversive sources, that will change a thing.
The message is that the power of social media is immense, but you still can’t take a boring message that has no emotional symbolism and expect it to ‘go viral’ – companies trying to create viral marketing strategies are finding out the hard way. British politicians are finding that they can publish all they like to Youtube, but if they haven’t got anything simple, direct, and exciting to say then the only people viewing will be their family and the policy wonks who wrote the script.

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