Media MemeBusting

That hot 60-second “Bernie Sanders ad” isn’t a campaign ad

If it walks like an ad, quacks like an ad, but requires no out-of-pocket change to distribute … is it still an ad?

And if it features a candidate, does that make it a campaign ad?

Pundits sure think so.

Together is a slick, emotionally-charged 60-second video that features a Bernie Sanders clip, photos of Bernie, and liberal use of the campaign “vote together” slogan.

It is a video, story, ad about the campaign.

But it’s not a “Bernie campaign ad” despite every headline that says it’s so. Or every editor/publisher/pundit/TV personality/reporter/columnist tweet.

This should be obvious to anyone who knows anything about political campaigns because there are no credits on the video.

On the other hand, the Bernie campaign did release this ad on Thursday:

If you can watch that and not reach for a Kleenex, you need to trade your heart in for a repaired model.

YouTube imposters are hiding in plain sight

The original video was posted in January; the Vimeo page provides cursory credits but does not make it clear that the ad is unaffiliated. 

Bootleg copies, of course, are live on YouTube. Like most bootleg video, the thieves provide no provenance. Because the video itself contains no credit information, bootleggers are free to say what they will. And the gullible will believe.

Look. It’s not difficult to figure out if something passes the smell test on YouTube. Go to the channel page.

Yet both YouTube clips have been referenced by media in stories about a new campaign ad. Some say the ad was released after the New Hampshire primary.

“Reporters” are wearing not rose-colored glasses but opaque ones.

Who made Together?

A NY-based media company “which creates stories and experiences to transform the way the audience sees themselves and others around them” released the slick 60-second video.

Jonathan Olinger, the founder of HUMAN, directed the video. It appropriates the Bernie campaign hashtag, #votetogether. There’s a website, Twitter account, Facebook page. All. Devoid. Of. Credits. (Also MIA: any relationship to the Sanders campaign.) WHOIS

A commenter at Vimeo pointed out the need to make it clear that Together is not affiliated with the campaign. The description has not been changed; the comment has not been answered.

Comment on Vimeo

Olinger released the video on Human’s Facebook page Monday, prior to the New Hampshire primary. Again: sans disclaimer.

Moreover, the video borrows heavily from a United Nations campaign, Hopenhagen. That agency had to press Olinger for acknowledgement.

Facebook comment

The campaign has muddied the waters

The Sanders campaign tweeted the video the day before New Hampshire. It’s the “tweets by staff” account but it’s still an official account. And there’s no disclaimer in the tweet.

UGC that warms the heart

User-generated* commercials created for the SuperBowl (which started in 2007) have been trumped by citizen tributes to candidates.

Did anyone at Google have this sort of communication in mind when they bought YouTube almost 10 years ago (for $1.65 billion)?

This riff on Elton John’s Tiny Dancer got a boost Thursday from USA Today.

The professionally-produced song is courtesy of New York musician Mel Flannery and her husband Danny Sher. And licensed. And explicitly non-affiliated:

Bernie Sanders and/or his campaign has not paid one solitary cent for this song or video. We are not currently affiliated with the campaign but we support it wholeheartedly and offer this song for their use.

There is a joyfulness to the Elton John/Bernie Taupin parody that is missing from the slick Together video. And transparency in spades.

You know which one has my heart.

FEC rules on disclaimers

Look. We need to know who makes this stuff. And the Federal Election Commission is pretty clear about the requirement for communication disclaimers.

Public communications financed by individuals or other organizations must include a disclaimer if the communication expressly advocates a candidate’s election or defeat or solicits funds. The disclaimers must indicate who paid for the communication and whether or not it was authorized by a candidate. Unauthorized ads must also include contact information for the sponsoring organization.


Together does not explicitly ask the viewer to vote for Bernie. In fact, like deliberately misleading ads that comprise too much of our political advertising, its message is indirect, slight of hand. Photos of Bernie and his events. His voiceover. His hashtag. But no call-to-action.

Because the ad does not expressly advocate “a candidate’s election” the FEC is probably ok with the lack of transparency.

But you shouldn’t be ok with it, whether you like Bernie or hate him.



*User-generated content (UGC) is any digital communication voluntarily created by users or fans of a service. The term has been used derisively (“amateurs”) to imply that the end product is sub-par in quality.
Cross-posted at The Moderate Voice

By Kathy E. Gill

Digital evangelist, speaker, writer, educator. Transplanted Southerner; teach newbies to ride motorcycles! @kegill

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