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User-Generated Obama

The Internet makes politics fun, does it not?

Alternately, the Web has helped Barack Obama rocket past Hillary Clinton in the fund-raising scramble, and played host to a vicious smear campaign claiming, among other things, that the senator from Illinois and lifelong Christian is an inveterate Muslim who took his oath of office with his hand on the Koran.

Ah, the knife cuts both ways, on that Web of ours.

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Never one to stay out of a political fracas playing out on the Internet, MoveOn.org has taken up Obama's part with its ["Obama in 30 Seconds"](http://www.obamain30seconds.org/) contest, calling for submissions of short-form videos endorsing his candidacy. The user-generated video contest reprises MoveOn's 2004 "Bush in 30 Seconds" promotion, which resulted in videos torching the current president for the faulty intelligence that gave cause for the war in Iraq, the No Child Left Behind educational initiative, deficit spending and a skein of other issues.

MoveOn will award the winning entrant with a national airing of his or her ad, and $20,000 of video equipment.

The political action group has also lined up an impressive [list of judges](http://www.obamain30seconds.org/judges.html), including such luminary cause-heads as Ben Affleck, Moby and hip hop mogul Russell Simmons.

MoveOn is doing the same thing that a few of the more adventurous marketers have been attempting through consumer-generated ad campaigns. When a consumer becomes an evangelist for your brand, the reasoning goes, the message becomes much more convincing. The idea of the customer testimonial is as old as advertising itself, of course, but the viral distribution made possible by the YouTubes and MySpaces allows those messages to ricochet around an enormous audience, stripped away from the unseemly baggage that comes with a corporate-created branded message.

The problem for advertisers is that lighting up the Internet with a whimsical, branded romp on YouTube doesn't always deliver a return on the investment of promoting and managing the campaign. In politics, however, the translation between buzz and campaign momentum is far more direct.

Then, too, advertisers are crushingly aware of their responsibilities as stewards of their brands, so for many, the idea of relinquishing their messaging mission to the *hoi polloi* makes about as much sense as starting the day off with a tall glass of thermometer mercury.

Political branding plays by a looser set of rules, and judging by the best of the entries in MoveOn's 2004 Bush-bashing contest -- which range from poignant and tragic to, well, very funny -- Obama the brand is in no great danger. MoveOn also covers itself with the disclaimer that the contest is not endorsed by the Obama campaign.

The submission period begins March 27, with the winner to be announced April 17, a convenient five days before the mission-critical Pennsylvania primary.

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