Tuesday, October 14, 2008

I vote for Jessica Alba

I’m torn when I reflect on the drive to encourage Gen Ys to vote and contribute to the democratic process. Don’t get me wrong, I really like democracy, I like what it stands for and I like the egalitarian ideals that are the foundation of the US constitution….it’s just the seedy and irrelevant way it’s being packaged to youth.

Take DeclareYourself.com, a “nonprofit campaign to empower and encourage every eligible 18-year-old in America to register and vote in the presidential primaries and 2008 presidential election.” As much as I’d like to try to be controversial and brand this as campaign as frothy, feel-good clusterf*ck of Gomorrahian proportions, I really respect the integrated marcom aspect of the whole project. DeclareYourself has strategic partnerships with key media, retail, and tech companies and the campaign is ubiquitous in online Gen Y social spaces. Check out some of the partners:

  • Cricket Wireless
  • Yahoo
  • MySpace
  • ComedyCentral
  • ClearChannel
  • Starbucks
  • American Eagle
  • Van’s Warped Tour
  • Seventeen Magazine
  • The WB Network
  • Google
DeclareYourself.com is also a terrific website. The FAQs are really clear and answer any stupid questions that newly-legal Gen Y might have about voting, such as “who are the main political parties” – yes, it says this! The site is well-designed and encourages a lot of user interaction and dialogue in the form of forums, social network affiliations, blogs, and a bunch of videos.

Ok, but here’s where it goes off the rails for me…it’s overdosing on celebrity endorsements and the frame of reference is moving out of focus. Voting is about people. The site is about young people voting. It’s about you and me and exerting our democratic freedom to elect political officials. It might be about the issues, it might be about the candidates. Either way, DeclareYourself.com wants you to vote.

So why is there so much interest and vocalization of the whole platform by celebrities? It’s sickening to see the commercialization and packaging the presidential election as if Nov 4th doesn’t correspond to the general election, but rather to a movie opening. It’s not fair that the main character in the movie isn’t the newly-minted 18 year old who can vote for the first time in their life, but Jessica Alba.

It’s a movie and all the stars are invited to the premiere!

And the movie certainly has great commercials:

In fact, nearly all the video clips sponsored by DeclareYourself feature celebrities.

Really, it doesn’t matter what celebs say and frankly a lot of Gen Y – especially the ones smart enough to actually vote! – would tell you that they’re 0% influenced by what celebs do, say, or advocate.

Jessica Alba has nothing to do with me voting, so why is she the star of the movie?

And DeclareYourself isn’t along in superficial endorsements. Here’s Adrian Grenier showing his chops for RockTheVote.

Doesn’t that seem a little self-indulgent?

Contemporary marketing is about measurability and effectiveness. Fortunately for DeclareYourself, these celebs have likely offered their endorsements for free since they have nothing else to do all day. They’re working pro bono to assure themselves that they’re performing a valuable service to society and are atoning for generally being brainless pillheads. But how is anyone sure whether their endorsements and appearances at events and in videos are serving any purpose?

Again, the democratic process is beautiful. It’s a wonderful thing that DeclareYourself is so committed to getting a new generation familiar with their rights and proud of the electoral system the US has in place. It’s marketing platforms are strong through the use of integrated media and online channel promotion direct to Gen Y. I’m just skeptical about how tarnished the message can become when it’s no longer about young people, it’s about Jessica Alba.

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