YouTube becoming popular place for campaign ads

By Jonathan Hardison

BIRMINGHAM, AL (WBRC) - If you haven't seen it, you've probably heard about it. A new campaign ad for Agriculture Commissioner candidate is getting thousands of hits on YouTube.

This follows the "English-only" ad from GOP gubernatorial candidate Tim James that generated days of national press coverage.

The new ad from candidate Dale Peterson hasn't aired as a paid commercial, but it's gotten a lot of play from conservative supporters across the country.

It's also been the 'butt' of many jokes in the within national media as well. Depending on who you ask, it's either a brilliant strategy, or it's part of a phenomenon even Peterson himself is still trying to understand.

"The idea of a viral YouTube video is to get enough attention from it that the press picks up on it," said Dr. Larry Powell, a UAB political analyst. "And the press picking up on it is when you get real exposure."

So are we fulfilling his wishes as we speak?

"That is correct. This is his goal all along, " said Dr. Powell.

"What tickles me more than anything about the ad, it is bringing good attention to Alabama," Peterson said. "And it's about the people of Alabama and the people of the country."

Peterson says he had no idea this ad would take off, and he knows he's the butt of some jokes, but that doesn't bother him.

"So be it. As long as I know in here that I am for the people of this country and for the people of Alabama, that's all that counts to me."

Peterson says the response to his web-only video has given him enough donations to put the spot on broadcast TV in the days leading up to the primary.

So is this trend of viral videos drawing big media attention like this story good or bad for politics, and ultimately voters?

"A little bit of both," Powell said. "It allows candidates with low money to have an impact on the campaign, that's the good thing about it, it allows them to get their message out. The bad thing is it does encourage extreme statements, and extreme statements are generally not good for the political process."

Dr. Powell says it's important to understand that YouTube hits or blog embeds, especially if they come from out-of-state viewers, don't always translate into success at the polls. "There is a big distinction between getting attention and getting votes. And some candidates forget about that. To get votes not only do you have to get attention but the message has to be one that will resonate with a broad spectrum of voters."

Dorman Grace and John McMillan are also running for the Republican nomination in the Agriculture Commissioner's race.

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