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Candidates Try Web Video, And the Reviews Are Mixed

From his dorm room at Georgetown, 21-year-old James Kotecki critiques the candidates' online videos, sometimes using
From his dorm room at Georgetown, 21-year-old James Kotecki critiques the candidates' online videos, sometimes using "pencil puppets" as visual aids. His postings on YouTube have been viewed more than 71,000 times. (By Bill O'leary -- The Washington Post)

Micah Sifry, co-founder of TechPresident.com, another blog that looks at how the candidates are campaigning on the Web, also makes a distinction between video online and ads on television. "There's something fundamentally different about video online," he said. "Viewers are looking for that rare, unscripted, revealing moment, to get a little sense of who these candidates really are."

For campaigns, Web videos are an instant way to reach voters, whether on the candidates' sites or on YouTube, which this month created You Choose '08, a channel specifically for candidate videos. They are a way to present Clinton sitting on a couch, sans microphone. A way to hear McCain talk uninterrupted about "honor," "courage" and "faith" (each one is a video clip). They are giving candidates a face, a voice and, most important, a personality -- at least if done right.

So far, none of the official campaign videos have been used to attack a rival candidate. And while the videos tend to be similar, there are differences in approach.

Some candidates are employing a "less is more" mantra. New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson, for example, currently has three videos on YouTube. For others, such as Mitt Romney, more is more. "We're doing as many different kinds of videos as possible -- videos of him giving speeches, testimonials from families, et cetera," said Stephen Smith, director of online communications for the former Massachusetts governor.

All of the campaigns, however, are still experimenting, watching each others' moves.

Christian Ferry, McCain's Web manager, says bluntly: "We're only at the very beginning here, and our videos are still evolving."

As an early model, Jarvis and Sifry both point to British politics and David Cameron, the leader of the Conservative Party. Last fall, Cameron launched WebCameron, which includes a series of short videos starring the 40-year-old father of three. His first video showed him washing the dishes at home, his baby screaming in the background.

Looking directly at the camera, standing in front of his sink, he says, "Watch out BBC and ITV, we're coming after you."

That was an off-the-cuff, unscripted moment -- or at least it appeared that way. To Sifry and Jarvis, it seemed "authentic," and therefore effective.

Yet as in vogue as online videos are, no one is sure of the impact they will really have. Or whether, in this Web-based, heavily fragmented mediasphere -- in which everybody is competing for shorter attention spans -- they will eventually replace TV spots, the bread and butter of campaign advertising.

"These videos are a giant step forward from saying, just three years ago, 'Here's our latest blog entry,' " said Jim Margolis, a veteran Democratic media strategist. "But are people going to get sick of them? You'll get 23 videos on your inbox and you'll delete them all? Who knows? I don't. This is all new."

In the meantime, Kotecki is a new critic for a new medium. He has recorded 42 videos in his dorm room since Jan. 27 -- often late at night, sometimes in the afternoon between his quantum physics and Introduction to Logic classes.

His YouTube channel has more than 400 subscribers, and his videos have been viewed more than 71,000 times. He makes up awards and bestows them on candidates; Romney earned one half of a "YouTube Savvy Award." He also makes sound effects -- "Ding!" -- and, on occasion, sings and raps.

Some of the campaigns, including Edwards's, have contacted Kotecki via YouTube, and Smith, Romney's Web man, said with a laugh: "We appreciate the half of the award. We'll earn the other half. It's early."

Yesterday afternoon, Kotecki received his biggest reaction yet -- a video response from Kucinich himself, who called Kotecki "my adviser."

"I think you have some good suggestions," Kucinich told Kotecki, "and we're already taking them into account."

The video, only 50 seconds long, is a close-up shot.


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