Obama Administration’s YouTube Contest Stumbles Out The Gate

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Saying that you’re hip doesn’t necessarily make it true.

The federal government’s web directory, USA.gov, is hoping kids and teens are the key to growth and success.  So they’re doing what any brand hoping to leverage that demographic would do:  they’re holding a YouTube contest.

USA.gov has been called a government version of the Yahoo directory, mostly because that’s exactly what it is.  The site began in 2000, and offers links to useful government-related information.

The Obama Administration is hoping to kick-start a new era of success for USA.gov, and thinks kids are the way to get there, so they’ve kicked off a new video-related contest.  One of the ways the site is structured is by age—users can filter the directory listings by only those that are most popular for their age group.  Teens can use the site to learn more about gas mileage tips, grade point average calculation, bicycle safety, recycling, and more.  Kids can find helpful test-taking tips, information about Martin Luther King Jr., and facts about the recently popular topic of the Alamosaurus dinosaur.

In a YouTube video released in late January, Dave McClure, the Associate Administrator of the Office of Citizen Services and Communications (did not even know that office existed) invites USA.gov users to record their own 30-to-90 second YouTube video detailing how the directory has helped them.  Here’s McClure’s video plea:

Man, I wish I didn’t feel compelled to say this, because I want to be 100% supportive of any attempt by the federal government to embrace emerging technologies, but… maybe the YouTube video contest would generate a bit more excitement if the star of the announcement video had a bit of… well… personality.  Or at least some low-level magnetism.  It’s hard for me to see kids watching that video and saying, “Well, alright!  I am fired up to create a video!”  A contest seeking an entertaining video should be launched with an entertaining video, no?

Anyway, the contest runs from yesterday through April 2 (that leaves room for a few April Fools submissions, I guess), and the winning video creator will receive a $2,500 prize.

Okay, another small critique:  maybe there’s a cooler or bigger prize we could offer America’s teenagers than $2,500?  I mean, you’re the federal government for Pete’s sake!  You can’t offer a tour of the White House with Michelle Obama or a trip for the family to come visit D.C.?  At least throw some more money into the ring and make this prize respectable.

Anyway, the point is that the government has a great idea here, one that I can get behind because it shows a willingness to embrace new online trends and technology.  But the snoozer of an announcement video—what, you couldn’t find even one politically-minded Hollywood type like Ben Affleck to narrate?—combined with the yawn-inducing grand prize make me realize that, yes, this is still the same old U.S. government.  Even when they take a step forward on something new, they find a way to handcuff themselves by relying on the old.

There are currently a whopping 8 members of the USA.gov Contest group on YouTube, and McClure’s video announcement has been viewed 869 times as of this writing.  The contest is only a day old, so there’s plenty of time for the Obama Administration to come up with a way to perform CPR on this promotion and give it some life.  I actually think that kids and teens would be quite interested in participating if the contest felt exciting in the least.  Or if they had a decent prize to shoot for.  It’s as though the federal government knows they need to hook the kids, but has no idea how to actually engage them.  Simply announcing a YouTube contest won’t work anymore.


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