How "Obama in 30 Seconds" became 8 hours long

When MoveOn logo launched their “Bush in thirty seconds” user generated video contest, they received more than a little flak. Most of this was a function of a media that didn’t quite yet understand that an organization shouldn’t be held accountable for everything their supporters say. Since then, more organizations have opened up to user-generated content, though there are still a few goofy stories of using online supporters against an organization, by and large, the press has come to accept that there’s a difference between an organization hosting content and endorsing it.

That might be one of the reasons that MoveOn’s new user-generated video contest, “Obama in thirty seconds” has been more popular than its predecessor. As of last Tuesday, MoveOn brought in more than 1100 submissions for the contest (that’s almost 8 hours of total video!), and had more than 2 million votes in less than 24 hours (compared to 2.9 million total in 2004). Since then, votes continued to cascade in – when voting closed, more than 4.7 million votes were cast for the first round.

Why was this contest so much more popular than its predecessor? And what can non-profits learn from MoveOn’s success in this arena? The answers to these, and other questions, plus my favorite videos, below the fold…

Part of the reason this contest has been more popular than its predecessor might be that the internet has evolved so much over the last four years. While our pipes haven’t gotten any faster (though our DSL bills have mysterious gone up… hmm), more people have access to broadband and the internet in general, and sites like YouTube have made the average user familar with online video.

Another component might be that bush people are more interested in supporting Obama than opposing Bush. While the attack ad has remained the staple of broadcast politics, this year could be a harbinger of a new era of voter persuasion – already, some of the most popular videos of the cycle have been positive and inspiring, rather than the traditional grainy footage, sinister music attack ads we’ve become so accustomed to (check out the numbers on TechPresident’s favorite video series for verification here).

Lastly, it might also be a function of the increased access to material to pull from. As I’ve written previously, the two remaining Democratic candidates have done a great job of making their raw footage available to users. Add this to the drop in cost of video filming and editing software and gear, and you get the perfect storm for amateur ad-makers.

So what about the quality of the videos in this year’s contest? I watched through a few of them – and while there were some less impressive selections, there were also some very good entries. The best entries were technically competent, creatively executed, and had a concept that you wouldn’t see coming out of the traditional media firms, who seem to largely produce the same unremarkable ads year after year for campaigns.

What should non-profits take away from this? The first thing seems to be not to be afraid of user-generated video content. While I saw a few videos that weren’t great, there was nothing that would get MoveOn in hot water. They may have pulled some choices (they made it clear in the rules that anti-Clinton videos weren’t allowed, and that the only mentions of the GOP candidates was to be comparative), but they wouldn’t have made it to 1100 submissions without allowing most content through.

The second takeaway contrib is to make smart use of the voting functionality. While voting is closed for now, when it was up, users were asked to make 3 one-click votes, then enter an email address and zip code for their first vote. Once they’d entered in their info once, they were logged in, and could continue voting without entering any more information. This made it easy to collect information and helped rack up their impressive vote total. They also made a pitch for donations on every page, asking for help to air the winning ad.

The last takeaway is that you have to be willing to reward winners to get a lot of high-quality responses. In this case, the main reward was that the winning ad would be shown in a national ad buy. But the winner also gets $20,000 in video and production gear. This provides a dual incentive to put time and effort into a strong submission. MoveOn has a large and creative base, but they almost certainly increased the size and overall participation with this event, not to mention getting high quality ads to run at a fraction of the normal production cost.

Of course, this post wouldn’t be complete without a few of my favorite picks. While I wasn’t able to watch all 1100+, I spent about half an hour watching the random selections (incidentally, I’d be interested to learn more about how it picks selections to show people – does it remove videos deemed “non-viable” from being shown while promoting more popular ones to determine the best? Or does it test each one equally throughout the first round?) to land on these three as strong examples of good content:

I am Obama:

Tools for Change:


All had innovative concepts and clever execution. They also had strong underlying music, snappy endings, and crisp narration or text. There were about a dozen more that I wanted to add, but in the interest of space, held off.

Going through these can be addictive – the finalists will be announced Tuesday, but in the meantime, if you’d like to browse through them, you’ll have to go to Google Cache to do so (without the ability to vote, you can’t scroll through videos at the moment). Share your favorites in the comments – I know I’ll be interested to see which videos win.

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