U.S. Congressman Joe Sestak (D-PA) is in for a tough fight. He is a candidate for the United States Senate from Pennsylvania, running against a veteran political campaigner, incumbent Arlen Specter. His messages need to be clear, concise, and impactful.
One particular video on his YouTube channel stands out from among the others.
It begins with a young woman, filmed in black and white, on a stark white background. A single guitar strums off camera. The woman looks off camera, contemplating what she will say next. The image cuts from the woman to a 40-something white male in a black t-shirt, looking sternly at the camera; a young thin black female in a shirt and sweater; a 50-something male, arms folded, scowling as he is thinking; a 30-something Indian woman; a 50-something female; a 20-something male with a white t-shirt. The 20 something speaks first, but the message is repeated by everyone in the commercial:
“Dear Mr. President, in 2008 I voted for you. I did voter registration for your committee. I walked the precincts for you. I went house-to-house for you. I gave money to your campaign. I believed in you. Mr. President I don’t understand why you support Arlen Specter. Someone who campaigned and voted for George Bush – TWICE. Someone who voted for the war in Iraq. Someone who voted against protecting our environment. Someone who voted against the assault weapons ban. Who for 30 years voted against everything we believe in. That’s not change we can believe in. In 2010 I’m voting for someone who cares about what we believe in. An actual Democrat. Somebody with the right values. We want somebody who can get stuff done. Someone like you who is a leader. My name is Kelly. My name is Connie. My name is Megan. My name is Paul. My name is Mike. In 2008 I supported you. Now I’m supporting Joe. You should, too.”
Since being loaded in March to Sestak's YouTube channel it has received 4,134 views.
This simple, straightforward, yet powerful message was produced by Yanik N. Ruiz-Ramón, a senior Communication and Public Service student at Annenberg.
Ruiz-Ramón, 21, said he has been studying the use of online videos and their roles in politics. A dedicated filmmaker since the 11th grade, he already has “15 or 20” short films to his credit.
“I approached the Sestak campaign with the idea of helping by doing videos,” says Ruiz-Ramón. His letter went unanswered, so he sought out the individual on the Sestak campaign who had responsibility for new media.
“Not surprisingly, he was only 23-years-old and terribly overworked,” says Ruiz-Ramón. But the two individuals were able to establish a connection, and the new media guy asked for Ruiz-Ramón’s thoughts about a creative concept for a commercial aimed at traditional Democratic voters.
“I ripped the idea apart,” Ruiz-Ramon said, offering one of his own instead.
His brutal appraisal of their work didn’t faze them. The campaign people decided they wanted his insights. He went to work immediately.
“We basically went to people in Sestak’s campaign office. People who were just working the telephone banks and said ‘You … would you mind being in our commercial?’” Rather than following the script verbatim, he began interviewing each volunteer. Why they were doing what they were doing. Why they felt so strongly about being involved. “There was a lot of emotion in that video,” Ruiz-Ramón says. “It was supposed to be milder, but the emotions really came out.”
Filming on Tuesday and Friday, a total of 18 interviews representing hours of footage had to be boiled down to less than two minutes. “I made a proof of concept with the footage from Tuesday, but after adding more people on Friday we went from 1 p.m. straight through until 2:30 a.m. the next day doing the editing.”
The video was loaded on to Sestak’s YouTube channel and promoted via word of mouth, Facebook, and an e-mail to Sestak’s sizeable listserv. Within the first three days of it being on line, it received over 1,000 hits. “It was covered by the Associated Press, the Daily Kos, the Philadelphia Inquirer, Fox, and MSNBC.”
Ruiz-Ramón admits he was a bit surprised that the new media position with Sestak’s campaign seems to be understaffed. “I realize I am biased, but I do believe this position needs more manpower.”