Paris Hilton may think John McCain is just a “wrinkly white-haired guy,” but the Republican presidential candidate apparently has figured out the younger generation just fine. Over the past two weeks, his “celebrity” attacks have stomped Democratic presidential opponent Sen. Barack Obama in YouTube hits.
Mr. McCain has pumped out a series of brutal yet entertaining attack ads and Web videos mocking the press and Mr. Obama, and the combination of wit and insult has pushed his YouTube channel to the sixth most watched on the site this week. Mr. McCain has beat Mr. Obama’s channel for seven straight days and 11 of the past 14 days, in a signal he intends to compete for the YouTube vote.
That is a giant reversal. Mr. Obama had been quadrupling Mr. McCain’s YouTube views and beat him every day since February, according to TubeMogul, which tracks online video viewing.
“I want to know who he hired. They went from recycling their TV ads to like putting out these witty shorts,” said David Burch, marketing manager for TubeMogul.
The McCain campaign said it was simply a decision to have fun with commercials, like the “Celebrity” ad released last week that compared Mr. Obama to Miss Hilton and Britney Spears, and “The One” Web ad that mocks the adulation from Obama supporters and compares the Democrat to Moses as he parts the Red Sea.
The videos were linked on key sites such as the Drudge Report and broke into mainstream coverage through television and celebrity blogs, expanding viewership to people Mr. McCain has never reached before.
“I think we knew it would draw some attention. I don’t think we knew it would be as big a hit on YouTube,” said spokesman Brian Rogers.
Among the attention it drew was a rebuke from Miss Hilton’s mother, a McCain campaign contributor. Even some Republicans said it was beneath Mr. McCain, who had promised a campaign on the issues.
Miss Hilton responded with her own Web video Tuesday night comparing Mr. McCain to “Star Wars” character Yoda and calling him “old enough to remember when dancing was a sin.”
While basking in the sun in a bikini, Miss Hilton says that since she’s been dragged into the race, she would offer up some ideas of her own to combine both candidates’ ideas: “We can do limited offshore drilling with strict environmental oversight while creating tax incentives to get Detroit making hybrid and electric cars. That way the offshore drilling carries us until the new technologies kick in.”
“It’s actually surreal,” Mr. Rogers said about the attention and the response from Miss Hilton. “I know that Senator McCain watched Paris Hilton and thought it was hilarious.”
Mr. Obama’s YouTube channel beat Mr. McCain’s every day from February through mid-July, when Mr. McCain’s new style began to show. That was when the campaign launched “Obama Love,” mocking press coverage of the Democrat, set to Frankie Valli’s “Can’t Take My Eyes Off You.”
That video was pulled after Warner Music Group lodged a copyright claim, but not before it helped Mr. McCain to several YouTube viewership victories.
The Republican followed it up late last month with the celebrity ad featuring Miss Hilton and Miss Spears and announced another commercial Wednesday continuing the celebrity attack, with the announcer wondering: “Is the biggest celebrity in the world ready to help your family?”
Mr. Obama’s campaign has studiously avoided talking about Mr. McCain’s celebrity attacks, instead responding to the substance of the attacks included in most ads.
But Mr. Obama himself couldn’t resist, telling voters last week that the Spears-Hilton references were demeaning to the election.
“Given the seriousness of the issues, you´d think we could have a serious debate,” he said in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. “But so far, all we´ve been hearing about is Paris Hilton and Britney Spears. I mean, I do have to ask my opponent, is that the best you can come up with? Is that really what this election is about? Is that what is worthy of the American people?”
Overall, Mr. Obama’s YouTube channel still dominates, with 51 million all-time video views. Rep. Ron Paul, Texas Republican, is second with 15.3 million views and Mr. McCain trails in third with 8.3 million views.
“The Obama folks get it,” said Mr. Burch at TubeMogul. He said they always have new material coming out to keep continually peaking.
But Mr. McCain is catching up, with 4.1 million views this month compared with Mr. Obama’s 2 million as of Wednesday evening.
“He made a smart move because he jumped out of the political blogosphere and chattering class, and got into the celebrity chattering class, and that’s where most of the energy is,” said David All, a Republican strategist who runs Slatecard.com, an online contributions site.
Mr. All attributed the change in attitude to the elevation of Steve Schmidt at the McCain campaign. The former Bush White House aide and campaign aide to California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger took over day-to-day operations at the McCain campaign a month ago and brought an aggressiveness that put the campaign beyond the usual political talk.
“The [Stephen] Colberts, Jon Stewarts, Saturday Night Lives, all of those things do a really great job of helping humanize a really great candidate, a really authentic candidate,” Mr. All said.
Joe Trippi, a Democratic consultant credited with bringing campaigning into the Internet age when he managed Howard Dean’s 2004 presidential bid, said the ads are the best entry Republicans have made in competing for YouTube attention.
“Look, they’ve entered the fray. These are clearly successful - the right take on humor, the right mix,” he said. “Any time you take items out of the pop culture, like Paris Hilton or someone who’s in that world, there’s a chance it’ll go viral.”
He also said Mr. Obama is right not to get baited into talking about the celebrity charges.
“It’s a classic strategy. Push off and get back to your issues. It’s not a good idea to dwell on the turf McCain wants you to dwell on,” he said.