Some super PACs spend millions attacking President Obama on jobs. Some super PACs tie Mitt Romney to outsourcing. Then there’s the one that has Samuel Jackson screaming “Hell no, motherf***ers!” at elderly voters.
While television ad blitz is still the go-to move for outside groups this election, one small super PAC has been generating impressive amounts of attention by focusing almost exclusively on online videos.
You have probably seen at least one of the clips from the Jewish Council for Education and Research. Their most recent video features the aforementioned Jackson urging a family of 2008 Obama supporters via storybook rhyme to “wake the f*** up!” and volunteer again. It’s garnered 1.5 million views on YouTube and likely much more via an embedded Yahoo version where it first debuted.
Written by the bestselling author of Go the F*** to Sleep, Adam Mansbach, and directed by Boaz Yakin (Remember The Titans), the short film contains all the hallmarks of JCER’s viral formula. Well known actor + obscenity + progressive message = Internet hit.
Mik Moore, the JCER’s director, told TPM that while crude humor was one favorite tactic (a recent hit video from Sarah Silverman is basically unprintable here), there was more to reverse engineering a viral success than might appear on the surface.
“For us, I think that video was successful because we didnt just go for the profanity or shock value but we actually told a story for our target audience: Obama voters who are less enthusastic this year,” Moore said. “There are not only a lot of web videos — literally millions — that don’t get traction, but a lot with celebrities.”
He’s got a point. Obama’s own YouTube channel, which has 238,000 subscribers, churns out star-laden videos on a daily basis that frequently pass all but unnoticed. A fundraising clip this month from TV stars Rashida Jones and Jesse Tyler Ferguson had just 10,000 views as of Thursday. Ditto Natalie Portman’s grassroots organizing video from October 2, which has only 25,000 views.
JCER is moving into a new phase this week, releasing a teaser for their site Actually.org, which will feature actors and comedians like Rosie Perez and W. Kamau Bell fact checking Romney statements and highlighting quotes that might turn off key voters. The project, a join venture with American Bridge, is designed to help Obama volunteers quickly bone up on key issues that might be sticking points when courting undecideds.
“We want to arm people with data, but in a way that is highly sharable and sort of fun to watch, that they can share with folks in their network that are more on the fence,” he said.
As the name implies, Moore’s JCER is focused on firing up liberal Jewish voters, one of the Democratic party’s most reliable voting blocs, even as their latest videos reach out to broader audiences. Moore cites the Hebrew word “emet,” or truth, as a Jewish value he believes underlies Actually.org’s mission, for example. And some of the more direct appeals to Jewish voters can still break out beyond the community. Their 2008 project, The Great Schlep, which urged young Jewish liberals to Florida to convince their elderly relatives to vote Obama made national headlines, for example.
“That was a specific Jewish appeal with a universal message,” Moore said. “We’ve had the inverse this cycle: we’ve had a number of videos that, while they’re not targeting the Jewish community explicitly, are highly resonant with Jews and Jewish values.”
The stakes are high with their latest project. JCER needs every video campaign to pop because they’re operating on a much smaller budget than big name groups like American Crossroads on the right or Priorities USA on the left — Moore estimates their total spending this cycle will top out between $300,000 and $400,000. The group relies heavily on seed money from Alexander Soros, son of finance billionaire and liberal philanthropist George Soros, who kicked in $200,000 back in April.
They also produce fewer videos, banking on just a handful of high production value clips to carry the day. But they are consistent. Their last big video before the “Wake The F*** Up,” an awareness campaign about voter ID laws, scored well over 2 million hits on YouTube as well.
Benjy Sarlin is a reporter for Talking Points Memo and co-writes the campaign blog, TPM2012. He previously reported for The Daily Beast/Newsweek as their Washington Correspondent and covered local politics for the New York Sun.