I don’t think that people do anything just because celebrities tell them to do so. We may have positive associations with famous people, but those ties tend to be relatively weak. But I do think that they can do something more limited: tip us over on decisions we were already considering making. If you were already going to buy vodka but don’t have a brand loyalty, spotting Aaron Paul in a Ciroc ad might be activating. And when celebrities with very particular personas and specific followings directly ask their fans to do something they might have done anyway, it might be more effective than if they try to reach a broad audience on a shallow level through something like an advertising campaign. It’s an approach that’s evident in at least three viral campaigns to turn out the vote this year, each of which rely on what makes the three different actors starring in them so compelling.
First, there’s Steve Carell’s spot for National Voter Registration Day, which turns turns his fundamental decency into a tool of shame—he probably will not actually box your ears, but the sense that he’d be gravely disappointed in you is somehow so much worse:
Then, there’s Sarah Silverman’s Let My People Vote project, which is the follow-up to her Great Schlep video from 2008 in which asked young Jews to encourage their grandparents to vote for Barack Obama, is vintage Silverman: naughty, baby-voiced, scatological, and with the conclusion that we should get our grandparents gun licenses to make sure they’re covered on photo ID on election day. It’s also brutal about the impact of voter identification on likely Obama voters in only the way Silverman’s faux-naif could pull off:
Today sees the release of Samuel L. Jackson’s Wake The F**k Up campaign, which for him has the advantage of both encouraging voter turnout and enthusiasm, and boosting Jackson’s audio-book rendition of the “children’s” book on which the campaign is a riff. It’s filthy, aggressive, and strangely adorable—nothing warms my heart more than feisty little girls who are into politics:
I don’t think any of these campaigns are going to swing the election. Eminem couldn’t, after all, get us a Kerry administration. But they may prove good models for celebrities who want to have a deeper, more targeted impact, a reminder to play to your strengths and to pay attention to who your real, true, core audiences is.