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How YouTube Saved Barack Obama Forty-Six Million Dollars

This evening Barack Obama is going to spend between four and five million dollars to air a thirty minute ad on three major networks nationwide. Not since Ross Perot in 1992 has a candidate spent so much money to reach so many people at the same time.

But, in fact, Barack Obama has reached the equivalent of ten times that many people over the last year, and his campaign has essentially done it for free. How? YouTube.

This wonderful post by Salon’s Cyrus Farivar ties together a number of threads about the influence YouTube had on the 2008 election cycle. Citing a number of different sources, he comes to the conclusion that the total number of hours of YouTube videos with pro-Obama political content was over fourteen MILLION HOURS.

To put that another way, YouTube gave Obama’s campaign the equivalent of fourteen hours of television viewing time for every person in Denver.

McCain was a distant second, with only the equivalent of about half a million hours of viewing. This massive deficit is striking for two reasons. First, it means that Obama supporters are posting a lot more videos. Secondly, and more importantly, a lot more people are watching them. If engagement is a measure of a brand, Obama’s brand is solidly in the lead on YouTube.

How much would this exposure be worth in terms of television? Well, using media buyer price points, Micah Sifry calculated that the value of the advertising would be around $46,893,000.

Taking one more step back, even though Obama’s campaign is currently taking in jaw-dropping amounts of campaign contributions, $46MM is more than the campaign received in eight of the last twelve months. To put it another way, Obama’s presence on YouTube was worth a month’s worth of fundraising.

These kind of social media multipliers are the kind of thing that internet marketing is supposed to promise, and Obama’s campaign has found a way to make it deliver. So, even though tonight’s message will potentially be seen by nearly a hundred million Americans, you can be sure that far more will end up watching it on YouTube–at not a penny of additional cost for Barack Obama’s campaign.

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