Clinton-Obama Web war

In January I wrote about the different looks of the website announcements of the three leading Democratic candidates for president. Now is a good time to revisit the images the campaigns are presenting on the Web. As with all things visual, there is a message in the images we see online.

New York Sen. Hillary Clinton’s site features well-produced video clips with high production values. She is using the film-standard 16:9 aspect ratio, which creates a widescreen look for her campaign-produced video clips. The site hosts the videos and offers high-resolution Quicktime files for download. You don’t find just your average video clips on this site, you watch well-produced mini-movies with careful attention paid to lighting, camera work, graphics and editing.

Log on to Illinois Sen. Barack Obama’s site and you get a different look. Obama does use some video clips in the 16:9 format, but they are generally his television commercials. Most of his videos use television news footage or grassroots-style videos shot on the campaign trail. These from-the-road video clips give us an audience-eye view of the candidate. We see him in open-necked shirt, microphone in hand, pacing and talking personally with voters. Sometimes we get up close and personal, as in the too-cute card game with the kids from an Iowa bus trip. Generally these videos are presented in the traditional television-standard 4:3 aspect ratio. (Television has historically been presented in the nearly square 4:3 format, while motion pictures are seen in a more horizontal widescreen look. With the advent of HDTV more producers are using the film format to fill new wider TV screens with higher-quality images.)

On the Obama site prominent buttons take you to YouTube, which is where the campaign seems to host most of its videos.
And that is where you will find virtually all videos from the No. 3 candidate, former Sen. John Edwards (D-N.C.). The Edwards campaign posts a lot of videos, often several a day, almost always hosted on YouTube. They use either television footage or tape shot with hand-held video cameras. Even his slickly produced “Hair” video makes heavy use of documentary-style news footage. The Edwards campaign is trying hard to look like a grassroots enterprise waging a campaign outside the mainstream.

So that’s how they look. What are their messages? Sen. Clinton is trying to deal with a “change” election by having it both ways. “Ready for change. Ready to lead,” reads the banner that serves as a backdrop in many of her videos. The biggest piece of real estate on her home page is now taken up by black leaders praising Hillary. Rep. Charles Rangel (D-N.Y.) leads off one segment by saying that when he thinks of a president he’s “not thinking of someone getting on-the-job training.” He wants a president “who can hit the ground running.” In another video clip the legendary record producer Quincy Jones says Hillary knows what is going on. Get the picture? We know her, we can trust her and African-Americans are for her. She is with voters who want change. She’ll dependably deliver that change.

That’s not good enough, counters Obama. In one of his best clips he explains his campaign to a rocking guitar music track and 30 seconds of compelling documentary-style video. “We want something new,” Obama says. “We want to turn the page … the world as it is is not the world as it has to be.” The spot has the sound and feel of a Robert Kennedy commercial from 1968. Clearly the Obama campaign believes this election is all about change, a point the senator very forcefully made in the spat with Hillary Clinton over meeting with leaders of hostile nations. Hillary’s campaign thought it had won that round by branding Obama as “naïve.” It looks to me like Obama won by sending a message to Democratic voters, who largely agree with him, that traditional approaches don’t work in the modern world.

The one person who could turn out to be a big winner if the Clinton-Obama war continues to escalate is John Edwards. It is hard to see Edwards winning unless the two front-runners stalemate. He’s running hard on a theme of BIG change. It “won’t come from negotiation and compromise,” he says. “Washington is broken … the system is rigged.” Big Oil, Big Pharma and their big bucks have hijacked America. Edwards says he’s the one person who has proven he can beat them.

In style and substance their websites define these candidates’ campaigns. Their messages are clear. In the next six months we’ll see which one resonates with voters.


Goddard is a founding partner of political consultants Goddard Claussen Strategic Advocacy.
E-mail: bgoddard@thehill.com.