Enabling the Creativity of the Crowds in Politics

So maybe the Republicans are going to put up a fight in the new tools space after all. After repeatedly watching the Dems innovate with new internet tools, Mitt Romney’s campaign has broken out with an initiative to allow supporters to create their own television ads. The campaign is using Jumpcut, which Yahoo bought last year, as the tool for “mashing up” video, audio and photos in creative ways. The campaign provides a base of content to use, but they also encourage people to upload their own material to remix.

“Mash-ups” refer to repurposing material meant for one thing to communicate another. It’s similar to the more familiar “remixing” of music from original songs into new creations. The mash-up technique has been used somewhat in politics, though not in official campaigns. The most famous example is the “Vote Different” remake of the Apple 1984 done by a person who remained anonymous for several weeks earlier this year. Moveon blazed a trail in the 2004 campaign by creating a contest to create a TV ad about “Bush in 30 Seconds.” However, all the submissions were original and there was no material provided to create the ads via a mash-up.

The Romney campaign is drawing off both strands and creating a contest where people can use official material in news ways. This has its pros and cons. The good side is that it allows many more people to potentially get involved because they have all the tools and material at their disposal and don’t have to shoot original video, etc. The risk is that people hostile to the campaign might hijack the material and put anti-Romney messages up. This actually happened last year in an attempt by Chevy to get regular people to make ads about their Tahoe. Somebody organized a bunch of environmentalists who used the clips of the car to create ads lambasting the gas-guzzling vehicles. (See the NPI talk by Julie Bergman Sender for more on this episode.)

Despite the risks, Romney is going down the right path. The most successful candidates will be those who can harness the energy and creativity of large numbers of American citizens. No one candidate or small team of consultants can pull off an election victory these days. They need the ideas, passions and efforts of many, many people working together for a long, long time.

Peter Leyden