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Viral videos are spreading fast

Impeach Gonzales video from www.robertgreenwald.org

TEXT OF STORY

KAI RYSSDAL: President Bush continues to stand by his Attorney General. He said once again today Alberto Gonzales has done, quote, "Nothing wrong."

That's an opinion not shared by most Democrats in the Senate, quite a few Republicans, and by a guy named Robert Greenwald. Greenwald's an independent film maker. This morning, he posted a 90-second video online calling for Gonzales to go. Hundreds of people have already seen it and e-mailed it to their friends.

It's a phenomenon called viral videos, an offshoot of viral marketing. Distribution's effectively free and incredibly effective. Andrea Gardner looked into whether they might change political advertising.


ANDREA GARDNER: It was just four months ago that film maker Robert Greenwald began making politically-charged viral videos funded by private groups and donors. They're a far cry from the usual mix of viral videos online: skits made by teenagers, animal tricks and snippets from TV comedy shows.

ROBERT GREENWALD:We're now having virtually everybody working on an issue, coming to us and saying, "How can we do immigration? What can do about health care?" I mean, it just goes on and on.

Greenwald's most recent video pokes fun at Alberto Gonzalez's spotty memory.

GEORGE W. BUSH: And answer every question he could possibly answer.

ALBERTO GONZALEZ: I don't recall specifically . . .

BUSH: . . . every question . . .

GONZALEZ: I don't recall . . .

At the end, viewers are asked to sign an online petition.

But as the 2008 presidential election draws near, political videos will ask viewers for their vote. Many expect the number of political virals to skyrocket. Private groups and average Joes will fund them, create them and post them to the Web.

Republican campaign strategist Dan Schnur says videos like this are making political advertising much more affordable. And voters are more likely to watch and believe the message in a viral video, because it comes from a friend.

DAN SCHNUR: You eliminate or at the very least reduce the inherit suspicion that most people have toward politics. Because the cost is so much less, you can afford to take some risks with humor, with more offbeat messages that you might not want to run on broadcast television.

That could bring in the youth vote.

Schnur thinks Republicans and Democrats have equal advantage when it comes to creating viral, because the technology is so simple that anyone can do it.

But Greenwald says there's a skill set to creating videos that are funny and entertaining enough to compel people to pass them along.

GREENWALD: Having said that, it's an incredible game-changer. It's much less expensive, you can reach huge numbers of people and it can have more impact

Potentially giving lesser-known and lesser-funded candidates more equal footing in the coming race.

I'm Andrea Gardner for Marketplace.

About the author

Andrea Gardner is a journalism professor and writer in Pasadena, Calif.
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