Candidates Miss a Trick, Ignore YouTube in Midterm Elections

Candidates Miss a Trick, Ignore YouTube in Midterm Elections

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Most internet marketers and video content producers mistakenly think they don’t have a horse in tomorrow’s midterm elections. That’s because only a handful of them have been hired to work on a campaign for either a Democratic or Republican candidate for U.S. Senator, U.S. Representative, or Governor. That’s because candidates have relied heavily on traditional broadcasting, yet again.

Ironically, RealClearPolitics rates eight races in the Battle for the Senate as toss ups: Alaska, Colorado, Georgia, Iowa, Kansas, Louisiana, New Hampshire, and North Carolina. RealClearPolitics rates 26 races as toss ups in the Battle for the House. So, there should have been scores of online video marketers who could have shared their war stories after tomorrow’s midterm elections. But, that doesn’t appear to be one of the likely outcomes. Why? Well, there are four key reasons.

#1 Walmart Moms, Not Gen C are New Target Swing Voters 

First, the swing voters that many candidates are targeting are “Walmart Moms,” not Gen C. Who are Walmart Moms? According to feedback from focus groups, Walmart Moms are voters with children age 18 or younger at home and who shopped at Walmart at least once in the past month. With these swing voting moms, information is low. Many say there are just “too many things going on,” leading them to “detach” from the news because they have other priorities and concerns, mainly their families. Quite a few say they prefer to “put blinders on” or “try not to follow politics.”

Conversely, Gen C is a powerful new force in culture and commerce. Sixty-five percent are under 35 but they span the generations, empowered by technology to search out authentic content that they consume across all platforms and all screens, whenever and wherever they want. They can be difficult to reach with traditional media – there’s no one-size-fits-all solution here – but brands that take the time to understand them and properly engage with them will find a willing and influential audience.

With an estimated 40 percent of voting age adults expected to show up at the polls tomorrow, who would you target if you were a Super PAC trying to influence the outcome of the Battle for the Senate? Would you focus on Walmart Moms, who are undecided but appear likely to vote, or Gen C, which seems to be members of “The Party of Nonvoters,” according to the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press?

For example, American Crossroads is a Super PAC that raises funds from donors to advocate for certain candidates of the Republican Party. Former White House strategist Karl Rove was behind its formation. On June 3, 2014, the Super PAC aired an ad entitled, “American Crossroads: ‘Spelling Bee’ AR,” which appears aimed at Walmart Moms in Arkansas.

And on Oct. 14, 2014, the Super PAC aired an extremely similar ad entitled, “American Crossroads: ‘Spelling Bee’ NH,” which also seems to target Walmart Moms in New Hampshire.

#2 Most Political Ads are Triggering Negative Emotions Like Anger

Second, most political ads in 2014 are triggering negative emotions like anger and fear, not positive emotions like enthusiasm. For example, check out the ad entitled, “Jail,” which was aired by Rob Astorino, the Republican candidate for Governor in New York.

Next, check out YouTube video entitled, “Attack Ad,” which was published by Is it a parody or true to life?

According to the Wesleyan Media Project, 52 percent of ads aired in Senate races since Sept. 1, 2014, were purely negative, just 26 percent were entirely positive, and 22 percent contrasted a preferred candidate with an opponent. House and gubernatorial races were only slightly less negative during that same time period. Forty-seven percent of ads aired in House races were purely negative, 31 percent were entirely positive, and 22 percent contrasted both candidates. Meanwhile, 46 percent of ads aired in gubernatorial races were purely negative, 35 percent were entirely positive, and 20 percent contrasted both candidates.

The chart below shows the percentage of ads over time in Senate races making appeals to anger, enthusiasm, and fear. There was a small uptick in the use of fear appeals in early October, but anger remains the dominant emotional appeal in Senate advertising – and anger’s use has been growing since the end of September. On October 19, for instance, just under 75 percent of ads aired in Senate races made an appeal to anger.


Dr. Karen Nelson-Field, the author of Viral Marketing: The Science of Sharing, looked at positive and negative emotions in three studies. In her book, she said:

Videos that made audiences feel exhilaration were shared more than videos that elicited any other high-arousal positive emotion. Similarly, those that made audiences feel anger were shared more often than those that brought about any other high-arousal negative emotion.

However, Dr. Nelson-Field also observed, “Negative high-arousal emotions can also prompt us to share, but which marketer is brave enough to risk offending their customers? Positive emotions are a much safer bet.” So, internet marketers and video content producers may or may not learn any lessons from videos that evoke angry feelings.

#3 The 2014 Midterm Elections are Being Fought Primarily on TV

Third, this year’s midterm elections are being fought primarily on television, not YouTube. The vast majority of the videos for Senate, House and Gubernatorial candidates are re-purposed television spots. For example, the most popular video on Joni Ernst’s YouTube channel is a 30-second long TV commercial entitled, “Squeal.” In the ad, the Republican candidate for United States Senate says she “grew up castrating hogs on an Iowa farm.”

Last week, the Wesleyan Media Project reported that spending on television ads in federal and gubernatorial races in the 2013-14 election cycle had topped $1 billion, with an estimated $1.19 billion spent from January 1, 2013 to October 23, 2014. That spending paid for over 2.2 million ad airings. If you include the races for other statewide offices, state senators and representatives, ballot measures, and local offices, then that raises total airings to 2.96 million at an estimated cost of $1.67 billion.

This Should Surprise, and Shock Most Online Video Marketers

Recently, Daryl Simm, the chairman and CEO of Omnicom Media Group, told The Wall Street Journal that his firm has been advising clients to move 10 to 25 percent of their TV dollars to online video. That’s significant because his company oversees roughly $54.4 billion in advertising spending around the globe and advises advertisers such as PepsiCo, Visa, McDonald’s, and Apple.

So, if more than a handful of campaigns for U.S. Senator, U.S. Representative, or Governor had taken Simm’s advice or followed Omnicom Media Group’s lead, an extra $100 million to $250 million would have been spent on online video this year.

#4 2014 Midterm Elections are Full of Highly Partisan Propaganda

Fourth, this year’s midterm elections are featuring highly partisan propaganda, not social videos. For example, check out the ad with no words entitled, “McConnell Working for Kentuckians,” which was uploaded by the campaign for Republican Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell.

If you want to know the backstory about “How ‘McConnelling’ came to be the hottest thing on the political web,” read Jaime Fuller’s story in The Washington Post. She explains that the ad with no words was merely a montage of B-roll posted in hopes that the clips would wind up on TV in future super PAC ads. However, “McConnelling” is not what I had in mind when I wrote the ReelSEO column entitled, “Does Video Have the Power to Change Midterm Election Results?

Online Video Leads to More Engagement than TV

Online video presents opportunities that television simply doesn’t. YouTube is patronized by a hyper-engaged, highly-connected younger audience who craves the two-way communication that social video offers. And unlike TV, YouTube lives everywhere because it’s accessible on millions of mobile devices in the U.S.

Online content helps people express emotion and connect with each other around shared passions. Users want to interact through sharing, commenting and joining a conversation. Any brand can leverage these passions and conversations to forge deeper bonds with consumers.

You might think that most political candidates would want to be able to do what any brand can do. But you would be wrong. For example, Charlie Baker, the Republican candidate for Governor in Massachusetts, has disabled comments for his video entitled, “Charlie Baker: ‘Chance.’

Charlie Baker Chance

And Martha Coakley, the Democratic candidate for Governor in Massachusetts, has also disabled comments for her video entitled, “Fishermen for Martha Coakley.”

Fishermen for Martha Coakley

With social video, users are in control. In fact, we call them users because they expect brands to inform, educate, engage, and enlighten them – and they expect this 24-7-365. However, it appears that both the Republican and Democratic candidates for Governor in Massachusetts want your votes, but not your comments.

What Lessons Can We Learn From the 2014 Midterm Elections?

So, I would argue that this means most internet marketers and video content producers do have a horse in tomorrow’s midterm elections. If Walmart Moms, television, and propaganda are three of the four keys to victory tomorrow, then online video marketers may be hidden losers. Why? Because we are likely to have a tougher time over the next two years battling for budgets in a wide variety of industries, including: advertising, automotive, business-to-business, consumer goods, education, fashion, financial services, healthcare, media and entertainment, restaurant, retail, tech, as well as travel and tourism.

I don’t know about you, but this triggers a couple of negative emotions for me. I’ve been betting that online video would be in the running for bigger share of marketing budgets, but I’m a little annoyed and nervous that the outcome of this year’s midterm elections might make some brands and agencies mistakenly believe that YouTube is still a dark horse.

This “revoltin’ development” makes me brave enough to risk offending my friends and colleagues in the online video and internet marketing industries – especially ones who are member of Gen C. I implore you to get your sorry ass out of your cubicle or home office tomorrow and vote! If you remain members of the Party of Nonvoters, then you are leaving our industry’s livelihood – and the fate of the nation – in the hands of Walmart Moms, television, and propaganda.


I can only add that many sporadic voters are members of Gen C. They are highly engaged, making purposeful decisions about the way they choose to live their lives. They are motivated by honesty and integrity. They are empowered by technology, living in the moment, always on. And they’re proud to give back more than they take on. Although they can be difficult to reach with traditional media, 46 percent think of YouTube as an alternative to TV.

Now, I would be much more likely to feel positive emotions like exhilaration and enthusiasm if our industry’s livelihood – and the fate of the nation – were in the hands of Gen C, YouTube, and social videos. Let me know what you think in the comments area below.


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