March 20, 2007 -- A striking, new and unauthorized negative campaign ad for Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., that attacks his presidential nomination rival Sen. Hillary Clinton, D-N.Y., is the latest sensation on the popular video sharing site You Tube.
The 74-second ad is a creative take on director Ridley Scott's controversial 1984 Super Bowl commercial that launched Apple as a brash alternative to market leader IBM.
But this time, the blond female athlete running away from riot-gear clad police and carrying a sledgehammer is wearing an Obama tank top and listening to an iPod.
The ad's protagonist runs past zombie-like citizens watching a grainy, widescreen television image of Clinton talking about her presidential campaign.
Clinton, the Democratic front-runner, is likened to an Orwellian Big Brother, and the female athlete smashes her sledgehammer into the widescreen television and destroys it, shocking the citizens out of their complacency.
"On Jan. 14, the Democratic primary will begin," the ad's tagline reads, "and you'll see why 2008 won't be like 1984."
In the final scenes, the familiar Apple computer symbol is in the shape of an "O" for Obama, which morphs into the Web site address www.barackobama.com.
The website may be Obama's official campaign website, however the ad's creator is a mystery.
The Obama campaign claims it had nothing to do with the video.
The question remains whether this is an attempt for Clinton's rivals to critique her anonymously, or whether it was created independently by political activists.
After initially declining to comment on the ad, today Clinton offered this response:"I haven't seen it but I'm pleased that it seems to be taking attention away from what used to be on YouTube and getting a lot of hits, namely me singing "The Star Spangled Banner," Clinton told NY1.
"Everybody in the world now knows I can't carry a tune," joked Clinton. "I thank heavens for small favors and the attention has shifted, and now maybe people won't have to tune in and hear me screeching about "The Star Spangled Banner," she said.
In a nod to YouTube's appeal to young people, Clinton said, "I think anything that drives interest in these campaigns and gets people who otherwise are not at all interested in politics, I think that's pretty good."
When asked if she would like to see the video removed, she said, "I might quibble a little bit about the content," said Clinton, "but if we get more people, especially young people thinking about politics, I'm happy about that."
'Brave New World' of Political Advertising
"This ad represents the emergence of a new era in political advertising," said Simon Rosenberg, president of the Washington-based New Democrat Network, an influential party advocacy group.
"It's a condition of 21st century politics," said Rosenberg. "It's a brave new world...the barrier to entry for politics has been lowered and it's much easier for average Americans to participate and engage."
The ease of new technology is enabling political activists to make their own media and post it online. Using a simple laptop and software, ordinary Americans can garner attention that political campaigns are spending millions of dollars of advertising to get.
"It used to be that unless they bought tens of millions of dollars in advertising, you weren't going to be heard," said Rosenberg. "Now, if an ad catches on, on YouTube or wherever, and becomes trendy and exciting, it could have just as much impact," he said.
Negative Attack Ads Are Nothing New in Campaigns
Experts say negative attack ads have become so prevalent because they have been shown to work. However in this new era of presidential politics, attacks don't have to necessarily come from candidates, and they don't have to air on television to create a stir.
"While these ads effectively push the envelope, they are a double-edged sword," said Matthew Felling, Media Director for the Center for Media and Public Affairs.
"They do cut through the tedious noise of traditional ads, but they also have no rules and can slice up a candidates' credibility," said Felling.
Going negative in a presidential campaign ad is nothing new.
Perhaps the best-remembered example of negative advertising during a presidential campaign was the 1964 "Daisy" ad by President Lyndon B. Johnson's campaign.
The ad aired only once, depicting a 6-year-old girl plucking petals from a daisy -- along with a missile launch countdown and then a nuclear mushroom cloud.
The suggestion was that if elected president, Republican candidate Barry Goldwater might lead the United States to a nuclear war with the Soviet Union. Goldwater lost by a wide margin.
New Technology May Level Political Playing Field
Experts say the emergence and popularity of YouTube could level the playing field when it comes to third-party attack ads.
In 2004, the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth successfully ran a series of negative television ads attacking Sen. John Kerry's, D-Mass., character with half-truths.
The ads were publicly denounced by the Bush-Cheney '04 campaign and officially lambasted by Republicans and Democrats alike.
Initially financed by a wealthy, Republican donor from Texas, the ads had a lasting, damaging effect to Kerry's campaign.
Today, experts say the ease and availability of media technology, and the accessibility and popularity of YouTube, means that political activists with an eye-catching ad don't need big money to make a big impact.
"This is unsettling, particularly for the candidate," said Rosenberg. "It means that increasingly, the political campaigns are going to be one voice among many, albeit a very loud one," he said.
"They're not going to be in control and there's nothing they can do about that," said Rosenberg.
Digital Age of Politics
In addition to the explosion of social networking sites like My Space and Face book, experts say new technology will make independently produced political ads even more accessible. "The next big thing to watch is broadcast quality video becoming available on mobile phones," said Rosenberg, noting that the Apple iPhone is scheduled for launch in June 2007.
"Broadband video will be in 80-million phones by 2009," said Rosenberg, "You Tube is going mobile by the end of the year. Tivo will soon allow you to record things off the Internet. Media, including these viral political ads are going to be viewed in a rapidly accelerated way," he said.
More and More People Online Seeking Political Information
While most people continue to turn to traditional news outlets for political news, a majority of Internet users now say they get their political information from alternative Web sites, candidate sites, blogs and comedy sites like Jon Stewart's "Daily Show", according to a January 2007 Pew report.
With more and more people online turning to the Internet for political information, and the ability of sites like You Tube to increasingly be able to get video into voters' hands, political watchers say the 2008 campaign is reaching into unchartered digital territory.
"We have no idea what the campaigns are going to look like in Fall 2008 because the velocity of change is increasing," said Rosenberg.