Before Smoking Man, there was Obama Girl. And who can forget JibJab? A new ad featuring Herman Cain’s smoking campaign manager Mark Block is the latest political video to become an overnight Web sensation. The ad, with Block taking a drag on a cigarette while Cain flashes a Cheshire cat grin, has had close to 1 million clicks on Cain’s website since its debut.
Not long ago, paid television ads were the only way for candidates to be noticed. But now online viral videos have become a staple of American politics.
Some widely disseminated videos have been harmless fun, such as the ad produced by digital studio JibJab in 2004 showing rivals George W. Bush and John Kerry singing a hilarious rendition of ‘This Land.’ Others have had a deeper impact, including Tina Fey’s scathing depiction of 2008 Republican vice presidential nominee Sarah Palin as an ill-informed lightweight. Those sketches first appeared on NBC’s ‘Saturday Night Live’ but were widely shared online.
Cain, a little-known former pizza chain executive before joining the 2012 GOP race, has seen his popularity spike recently after a series of debates and his much-discussed tax plan. The smoking man ad, with its low production values and quirky imagery, has added to the sense of novelty about Cain’s candidacy. The Obama Girl video, in which a fetching young woman sang about her crush on the then-Illinois senator, went viral early in the campaign and reinforced the notion of Barack Obama as the cool and sexy alternative to his more established Democratic rival, New York Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton.