2008-09 Gathering of Voices

Barack the Vote: Advertisement Masquerading as Music Video

Conrad Wrobel, Ashley Adams and Kristen Buck


The purpose of this study is to distinguish hidden agendas observed in political advertisements through analyzing Will.i.am’s internet-based video, “Yes, We Can.” We examined this video using four communication theories: Semiotics, the study of signs; Agenda-Setting, the media influencing public interests; Two-Step Flow, the transfer of media through opinion-leaders; and Medium Theory, the medium is the message. We applied these theories by investigating the media content and its use of language, symbolism implied by the involved celebrities, persuasive abilities, filming techniques, and use of the internet and video as specific communication media.

In order to better understand the current system of political campaigns and agendas, we investigated an Emmy award-winning music video which emphasized a political candidate, his catchphrase, and his campaign theme. Considering the ground-breaking nature of the recent presidential campaign/election and the potentially far-reaching impact it might have on not only the United States but the world as a whole, it is in our interest to see how we could have been influenced or manipulated into supporting a particular candidate.


Description of Advertisement

“Yes, We Can” starts with an acoustic guitar strumming a slow, sweet, and simple melody while the camera captures in black and white its primary creator, the hip-hop artist Will.i.am, preparing himself for the song. He adjusts his hat, wets his lips, strokes his chin, and fiddles with what appears to be a pin of crossed golf clubs on his jacket. During this “warm-up,” the screen briefly shows actress Scarlett Johansson taking a breath and raising her eyes as if mentally preparing the lyrics in her mind. After Will.i.am adjusts the pin, he stares straight at the camera and sings these words in sync with the voice of then-presidential hopeful Barack Obama: “It was a creed written into the founding documents that declared the destiny of a nation. Yes, we can” (metrolyrics.com, 2008).

At the point when Obama’s voice joins Will.i.am’s, a clip of Obama giving the original speech from which the lyrics in the song are taken appears on the right portion of the screen against the black background. When the catchphrase “Yes, we can” is spoken, Obama is replaced by the large white words “Yes, we can.” When the next lyrics are sung, the clip of Obama takes the center of the screen, split to the right by the basketball player Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, and then to the left by the hip-hop artist Common. The video progresses in this fashion with the screen split between Obama, thirty-eight different celebrities, with white highlighted words, and the chorus “Yes, we can” repeated and sung after or during each line either by Obama, the celebrities, or the crowd that attended the original speech (Heng, 2008; WeCan08, 2008). Each celebrity adds to the song, either by playing a musical instrument, singing the lyrics, or adding to the “Yes, we can” chorus by linguistically mingling English, Hebrew, two forms of Spanish, and American Sign Language, while smiling or staring directly at the camera. As the song fades out, the video ends with Will.i.am’s gaze avoiding the camera while the word “HOPE” appears in white letters to his right. As his gaze finally turns to the camera, the letter “H” is replaced by a red “V,” the letter “P” is replaced by a red “T,” and lastly the “O” and “E” both turn red, changing the white word “HOPE” into a vivid red “VOTE,” giving contrast to the black and white theme used throughout the video.

History and Background

Among the candidates of the 2008 presidential election, a relatively new political leader emerged, a young (for a presidential contender) Illinois Senator by the name of Barack Obama. Obama was the first African American Democratic nominee for President in U.S. history. He had a simple slogan on which he based his entire campaign: “change.”

During the Democratic primaries on January 8, 2008, Barack Obama lost the state of New Hampshire to New York Senator Hillary Clinton (NBC, 2008). It was that night when Obama delivered a very powerful speech to the public. His catch phrase, “Yes, we can,” was born. Following this, celebrity musician Will.i.am, video producer Mike Jurkovac, and director Jesse Dylan (son of the famous 1960's folk singer Bob Dylan) created a four-minute, black and white, celebrity-filled music video to express their support for the candidate.

The “Yes, We Can Song” was recorded… on [the] 30th & 31st of January 2008, [and was] posted [online in the form of a music video] on the 2nd of February of the same year right before Super Tuesday, a pivotal time in the Presidential Primaries. (Heng, 2008)

The music video gained approval by being showcased on video share web sites popular among young viewers: “The song was released on 2nd of February 2008 by the Black Eyed Peas member Will.i.am on [the websites] Dipdive and…YouTube under the username ‘WeCan08’” (Will.i.am, 2008). “Yes, We Can” became an instant phenomenon. By the election in November the video had over 15 million views on YouTube alone (this figure does not include viewings from the original website, television spots, or other featuring websites, which are said to increase the number to over 25 million views (Heng, 2008)). Following this online recognition of “Yes, We Can,” the video entered the mass media and was in the global spotlight.

According to Maxwell McCombs and Donald Shaw (1978), presidential campaigns are controlled by the media and their propaganda. Their theory was confirmed with studies during the 1968 presidential race. The study proved that when a story is covered in the media, people are more likely to be influenced by those stories.

Why We Are Interested

While Will.i.am mentioned in his interview that his video was an impartial advertisement to raise voting awareness (ABC News, 2008), it had elements that arguably promoted the election of Barack Obama, making this in actuality a privately produced campaign commercial for the Democratic Party’s candidate.

Considering that Barack Obama won the presidential election of 2008, it would be a tremendous oversight not to analyze the political campaign factors that contributed to his success. It is our belief that the “Yes, We Can” video played a crucial role in popularizing both Obama’s catchphrase, “Yes, we can,” and his main campaign slogan, “change.”

The four theories applied to this study are semiotics, agenda-setting, two-step flow, and medium theory. These theories are all relevant steps in the approach to analyzing the video because they cover four distinct aspects of how a video medium can affect its audience. Each theory helped to examine how the content of a message can be manipulated by the way it is presented.

Theory Review


Semiotics is the study of language, often used by advertisements to construct and organize reality utilizing signs and symbols in a way that moves people toward a universal understanding.

Semiotics is the study of the symbolism attached to a communication system by a series of signs that have been assigned meaning. It differs from language in that language is the systematic medium that reflects a body of words with meaning assigned by cultural “norms” (Fiske, 1989). Language is the system of signs that makes the world intelligible, and allows us to communicate with one another (Language, 2006, para. 1-7). The denotation of a word is the literal meaning, or the primary definition that one might find in the dictionary. The word, however, only holds meaning to those who use the language because the connection between a word and its meaning is arbitrary. There is no concrete evidence that a word and the meaning attached to it must be related, it is only through language and a shared sense of meaning that the two appear to be so intimately related. Gestures, expressions, body language, and fashion are a few areas where one may encounter signs. One word or sign may hold more than one meaning, and the secondary meaning is known as the connotation. This can include individual thoughts or feelings evoked from certain words due to past experiences or encounters, making symbols more personal for each viewer. Connotations alter one’s surroundings into symbols that make life intelligible and meaningful (Chandler, 2005).

To interpret signs, semioticians look at their signifiers and signifieds. Signifiers are the words, sound-images, or visual-images that convey meaning (Fiske, 1989). The signifier represents the signs that can be perceived through the human senses: what we see, feel, hear, smell, or taste (Chandler, 2005). The Signified represents any alternative concepts we may associate with the sign. A sign must have a combination of both a signifier and a signified to be considered a signification (Nowlan, 2008). For example, when we think of a “bald eagle” we may know that denotatively it is a large predatory bird with a white head, brown body, and talons; thus the word “bald eagle” would be the signifier, or the denotative way of viewing the sign. The actual bird itself is the signified. However, Americans may also associate the bald eagle with the United States of America, symbolizing freedom, pride, strength, and democracy. As a nation and as a culture, Americans have assigned it these meanings. Secondary meanings are the “ideas being conveyed” or its connotative meanings.

In order to properly analyze the signs and sign systems in media, one must be familiar with the codes that are expressed (Nowlan, 2008). The codes are the techniques used to form mutual or reciprocal relationships between the signifiers and signifieds (Chandler, 2005). A code can be anything that is believed to be open to interpretation as meaningful, providing a source for and a stimulus to the process of signification (Fiske, 1989).


Maxwell McCombs and Donald Shaw developed their theory on agenda-setting in the belief that the media have the ability to tell the public what issues are important. The term agenda-setting refers to the creation of public consciousness and concern of issues that are considered to be imperative by the news media.

In agenda setting, two basic assumptions must be understood; First, that the media does not reflect reality, but does sort and mold it, and second, the public is led to believe that some issues are more vital than others because of the media’s focus on a few issues or subjects. (Griffin, 2006)

McCombs and Shaw focused their research on the 1968, 1972, and 1976 presidential elections (U. Twente, 2004). Their hypothesis predicted a cause-and-effect relationship between the agenda of the media and the public’s agenda after viewing media messages (Griffin, 2006). During the 1968 election between Richard Nixon and Hubert Humphrey, their research focused on the elements of awareness and information and studied the relationship between what voters in a community said were significant issues of the campaign, and the content of the media messages throughout the campaign. Their research found that the mass media indeed had a significant influence on what issues voters considered most important (U. Twente, 2004).

Depending on how the information is released (through different media, news outlets, and/or companies), different media outlets will have different agenda-setting potential. The media tell the public what is important, but this begs the question: who is telling the agenda setters what topics to concentrate on? Scholars have targeted major news editors, politicians and their “spin-doctors” as agenda setters, but recent findings suggest the focus should be on public relations professionals (Griffin, 2006).

Not only does the media tell the public what to think about, the media also make some issues more salient, suggesting to audiences that those issues are more important and deserve greater attention (U. Twente, 2004). Through the use of selection, emphasis, exclusion, and elaboration, the media do more than tell the public which issues are most important, they transfer the importance of said issues’ specific attributes (Griffin, 2006). The media’s powerful influence goes beyond telling people what to think about, by telling the public what to think about it, and even giving suggestions on what to do about it. This goes beyond merely affecting attitudes and opinions; McCombs believes that the media may even affect the public’s behavior (Griffin, 2006).

Two-Step Flow Theory

Initially introduced in 1944 during the Roosevelt vs. Dewey presidential election, Paul Lazarsfeld, Bernard Berelson, and Hazel Gaudet performed a study focused on the decision-making process throughout this campaign. Their study, titled “The People’s Choice” (U. Twente, 2006), hypothesized that the researchers would find a direct influence of the media’s messages on voting intentions. Their experiment revealed that informal yet personal contacts influenced voting behavior. Based on these findings, Lazarsfeld and Elihu Katz founded the actual two-step flow theory (U. Twente, 2006). The theory maintains that information from the media moves in two distinct steps. The initial step in the spreading of information consists of individuals who pay close attention to the media messages and then pass on their own interpretations of the media content. These individuals are known as opinion leaders (U. Twente, 2006). “Personal influence” was the term chosen to refer to this process of intervening between the media’s message and the audience’s reaction to the message (Center for Interactive Learning, 2008). Opinion leaders can be extremely influential in getting people to shift their attitudes in accord with those they influence. This theory has provided a new perspective on how the mass media influence public attitude, and has helped to explain why some media messages may fail in attempts to change audience behavior.

Medium Theory

Medium Theory, “also known as channel theory, …media formalism” (Medium Theory, 2008), or “media ecology” (Griffin, 2008), is based on the idea that “the medium is the message,” a phrase coined by Marshall McLuhan (1964), the creator of the theory. This concept is based on looking past the message presented to the medium in which it is being presented. McLuhan believed that technology is an extension of the body and mind, specifically by the unique medium utilized by the chosen technology (Gordon, 2002). McLuhan theorized that the medium is the message because it reshapes the information being presented in a way that differs from traditional tribal (face-to-face) communication. Where communication started as a personal interaction based around an oral language, advances in technology have created new methods of transferring information and meaning. This includes, but is not limited to, artwork, written language and literature, pictures, radio, television, internet, and various combinations of these channels. Essentially, the medium is a container that holds the message. Unless one understands the particular container being used, the message is useless. Metaphorically, if a person was given a decoratively wrapped box (a present or gift) for their birthday, unless they, the person in question, understood what a present was, they might not know how to open it. Concurrently, unless one knows the box was hollow, would they be able to even imagine something inside it? Truly, unless one understands the package, they cannot even imagine the meaning(s) it could possibly hold.

Theory Application


The rapidly varying images in the music video resonate with Barack Obama’s message of “change.” Ironic to its nature, change is one of the only constants in life. Because of the video’s constantly changing visual images, we can all relate to it because we can all relate to change. “The momentarily changing nature of phenomena is like a built in mechanism, and since it is the nature of all phenomena to change every moment, this indicates that all things lack the ability to endure” (Lama and Cutler, 1998, p. 163). This is similar to how some believe Americans cannot endure four more years of the same failed Bush-Cheney policies because in accordance to their nature, people demand variety. Since things are not able to remain the same under their own independent power, this suggests that all things can be influenced by other factors—perhaps even influenced and changed by a single person, a single candidate. The signifier at play here is the use of the word “change,” as well as the changing camera angles, celebrity faces, and environments. The signified is this: change will come from Barack Obama (presumably change for the better).

An additional signifier that stands out is the use of first person plural linguistics. “We-language” can be used to brace the viewers for a persuasive ending. The words “we want change” are repeated numerous times during the “Yes, We Can” video (Obama, 2008). “We” means “oneself and another or others” (We, 2008). The repetitive use of this language creates a sense of belonging and closeness that intentionally moves the viewer in the direction that the creators of the video desired; in this case, voting for Barack Obama. The secondary idea associated with “we” is the signified, or the message being conveyed. By acknowledging Obama’s catchphrase “we want change” as truth, the viewers follow their natural inclination and imitate the motto by agreeing with it and accepting Obama as the choice candidate. Thus, the sign is the word “we.”

The 4 ½ minute long music video was filmed in black and white. With all of the color drawn out of the images, it minimizes perceptions of racial skin tones and attempts to create certain impressions: serious, determined, contemplative, and genuine. This appeal to emotion causes viewers to keep an open mind, judge less critically, acutely embrace the video and to ultimately receive the message that voting for Obama will bring change and hope.

At the end of the “Yes, We Can” video, the word “HOPE” is seen repeatedly in white across the screen (WeCan08, 2008). While the music is still playing and the background remains black and white, the word changes from “HOPE” to “VOTE” in contrasting red letters (WeCan08, 2008). Possibly because it is breaking the color-scheme of the entire “Yes, We Can” video. First, the creators get viewers to focus their attention on the white lettering of a word that everyone is familiar with: hope. Then the words slowly changes to the color red and reads “VOTE” (WeCan08, 2008). The word “HOPE” can be seen as the signifier. When the viewer sees these words appear on the screen in white lettering, they may actually think of something different than the word “hope,” itself. Instead, it could imply a united nation, economic stability, or a new tomorrow. In other words, it makes one think Barack Obama is the candidate for change, who is also the signified in this situation; therefore, the signification is: voting for Obama.


Simply stated, the agenda-setting theory describes the media’s ability to tell the public what issues are most important to focus their attention on, how they should feel about those issues, and what to do in response to them. The 2008 presidential election was a historic event. The United States had been at war with Iraq for five years under the leadership of President George W. Bush. With a new president about to be inaugurated into office while the country is still reeling from the recent turmoil, another war for the White House raged on (Washington Post, 2008). During the election process, the power of the press was incredible, according to this theory, because the public looks to the news to judge what essential information is and where to focus their attention (Griffin, 2006). During the 2008 election, news sources flooded the public with information pertaining to the Democratic and Republican parties. With Senator Barack Obama being the first democratic African American candidate for the presidency, the election received ample attention from a variety of media sources.

The initial release of the “Yes, We Can” video was through the internet on community websites where users could upload and share videos (Huffington Post, 2008). With the internet being one of the top choices of media for exchanging current information and events, YouTube and other popular video sites are a perfect media tool. The video also received ample attention from other news and media sources; for example, it was featured on “What’s the Buzz,” a television show on the ABC News channel (ABC News, 2008). Since the election pertains to all Americans, this issue is highly important to all citizens. Even so, not everyone paid as close attention to the election before the video went viral and the media made it so widely known (Griffin, 2006).

According to The New York Times (2008), the video was viewed over 21 million times by July 2008, and the large number of views this video received suggests that since this video had so much publicity, more of the public decided that it was worth their time to watch. And, according to this theory, the public sees issues and candidates that are paid closer attention to by the media during the election as more salient or significant (U. Twente, 2004). Since others were paying so much attention to the video, and most likely were sharing it with friends or family who, in turn, shared it with others, more and more of the public viewed the video each day. It makes sense that the viewing audience was led to believe that if the news is sharing certain information with them, then that information must be most deserving of their attention.

This video not only tells the public that they should be paying close attention to the presidential election, it also tells them they must vote. The video features the phrase “Yes, we can,” being chanted and repeated at a near constant pace by Obama, the crowd attending his speech, and the featured celebrities (Dipdive, 2008). The words “CHANGE” and “HOPE” are displayed as the song goes on, implying to the public that change is possible. At the end of the video the word “HOPE” is shown on the screen and morphs into the word “VOTE,” suggesting that the public vote this election day. The public may infer from the video that if one is unhappy about the situation that the United States is in, it is not too late to change; but in order to create change, the public must vote for Obama.

As mentioned, the “Yes, We Can” video is 4 ½ minutes in length. As such, it does not conform to the typical time constraints of a standard commercial. Using a music video format grabs the viewers’ attention, forcing them to stop and listen to its message. By incorporating multiple diverse musicians, it greatly increases the video’s interest for music-lovers. Instead of pointing out the flaws (negative campaigning) of the other candidates or discussing Obama’s stance on particular issues (as is typically done in the final stretch of campaign commercials), the video works on an emotional level, aiming to be empowering and uplifting. This refreshing change of pace, along with its unusual length, made it stand out among other political advertisements. The video is successful in getting the viewers’ attention. Of the millions who watched the video, a younger generation was being targeted; as evidenced by a website frequented by this youthful age group, as well as using celebrities who are recognizable to and popular with this same younger audience.

McCombs and Shaw realized that some of their viewers might be more susceptible to the media’s suggestions than others (Griffin, 2006). They suggested that the viewers that would be the most willing to let the media alter their thinking would be those who have a high involvement and high uncertainty of the issue (Griffin, 2006). The voters who have the highest levels of relevance and uncertainty would be young voters who are still developing their political stance. The youth of America who are of voting age but have not yet committed to a political party or are not yet sure of their political standpoint would be the most likely to be swayed by a video such as “Yes, We Can” because of their increasingly typical obsession with current and/or popular music and celebrities. This video targets these young viewers with the hip-hop style overlaying the voice of Senator Obama's concession speech for the January 2008 New Hampshire primary (Culturekitchen, 2008). The featured celebrities in the video also appeal to a younger age group, including current actors and pop artists such as Scarlett Johansson, Common and Will.i.am, who also produced the video (Time, 2008). When young, undecided voters see the artists and celebrities that they admire supporting Barack Obama, they will be more likely to support Obama as well through their infatuation with celebrities even though they may not be true experts on the subject.

This video not only appealed to younger viewers, but also those who already supported the Democratic Party. These previously committed viewers would be more selective in the media they are watching, and since they already have an established point of view will be more likely to resist the media’s suggestions.

Two Step Flow Theory

After watching Obama’s concession speech at the New Hampshire primary, Will.i.am and Jesse Dylan were inspired to make “Yes, We Can” (ABC News, 2008). The pair wanted to raise public awareness of voting, and decided to take an original approach in comparison to the “Rock the Vote” project that started in 1990, which includes short celebrity-endorsed commercials focused on motivating youth to register to vote, among other things (Ayeroff, 2008). In an article from ABC News, Dylan said that “The speech was inspiring about making change in America and I believe what it says and I hope everybody votes,” (ABC News, 2008). Will.i.am looked to other famous faces to join his cause, and received ample assistance, saying:

I'm blown away by how many people wanted to come and be a part of it in a short amount of time. It was all out of love and hope for change and really representing America and looking at the world. (ABC News, 2008)

He took words directly out of the speech Senator Obama gave at the New Hampshire primary, carefully selecting which parts of the speech would be the most inspiring to others.

Will.i.am had a previously established following in today’s popular culture and is well known for his work with the hip-hop group “Black Eyed Peas,” who have sold over 18 million albums worldwide (Will-i-am.blackeyedpeas.com, 2007). He is also a well-known producer and has collaborated with artists ranging from Justin Timberlake and Busta Rhymes, to Mariah Carey and Michael Jackson. In the case of the music video, Will.i.am would be considered the opinion leader. By making the video, he took the information that he received from Obama’s concession speech and is literally filtering it and sharing it with his fans. Lazarsfeld, one of the creators of this theory stated, “ideas often flow from radio and print to the opinion leaders and from them to the less active sections of the population” (Center for Interactive Learning, 2008). This describes “Yes, We Can” perfectly. Will.i.am shared an altered version of the speech he heard from Obama with his audience, including the parts he considered to be the most influential.

Medium Theory

Considering that videos would not exist if it weren’t for the invention of the picture camera and later the video camera, it could be said that the camera itself is directly responsible for the medium of video. An irreplaceable tool in the process of making videos, the camera’s direction affects how the video medium influences society. While the video itself is essentially the message, since it can only capture the audience’s attention for as long as they maintain conscious awareness of it, the medium is essential to maintaining audience focus on the message it is presenting. This means that the medium must be innovative and attractive at all times. However, this can only be achieved if the camera films in such a way that maintains an unwavering interest. Regardless of the actual message endorsed by the commercial – “to vote for Obama” – the camera is utilized in conjunction with the celebrities, Obama, and the highlighted words in a way that it becomes a unique medium used to maximize audience retention through the duration of the video in itself. This means that the camera is the medium, and because the medium is the message, what it captures is also part of the medium, and thus deserves analyzing.

The camera angle constantly incorporates “the gaze,” also known as “the direct (or extra-diegetic) address” (Chandler, 2000), a term used in reference to a direct look from the person(s) in an advertisement straight towards the audience. This makes it appear as if the celebrities are trying to establish a direct connection or relationship with the audience through eye contact. A relationship is a connection or association, and “an emotional or other connection between people” (Relationship, 2008). Eye contact is important in establishing trust because every relationship involves some establishment of trust, meaning the knowledge of whether a person can or cannot be trusted, and to what degree. One person who is known to the other is often believed to be more trustworthy than a complete stranger. These celebrities employ “the gaze” in an attempt to create the illusion of eye contact; this mixed with the initial recognition via celebrity status, builds a false relationship with the audience, providing a false semblance of trust. By utilizing this impression of trustworthiness, the creators of the advertisement can persuade the audience on an unconscious level to believe what they say, which in this case is to vote, and as implied in the video, to vote for Obama. Only through the use of video or photos can “the gaze” be utilized. Because of the subliminal effects of this strategy, it becomes an extremely effective tactic for widespread persuasion. This approach requires the camera, and the camera requires the celebrities to perform the gaze, so the overall mechanism of the medium is the complete projection of these combined factors. The medium is employed as the message in only such a way that this medium could portray it.

However, “the gaze” is not the only subtle effect attributed to the medium of the camera. Color tone plays an important role in the social influences of the camera. Being filmed in black and white allows for perceptions to change about the skin color of the celebrities involved. During the campaign, a controversial subject that arose was race. Obama, being the first Democratic African-American presidential candidate, faced a lot of controversy through his campaign because of his ethnicity. “Yes, We Can” was filmed in black and white film, with the single exception of the word “vote” at the end of the video, which was bright red. Because the entire film is in grayscale, it can be interpreted three different ways:

1)  Since all the actors’ skin tones have been reduced to shades of grey, it could be contrived that we, as a people, are not black, white, yellow, brown, or any of the colors used to describe skin tones, but are essentially the same, neutral shades of grey.

2)  The use of black and white film increases the obvious difference in the skin tones of the celebrities to reflect exactly what the camera filter is used for, to distinguish the world in shades of black and white, emphasizing the importance of race in the election.

3)  The black and white filter could be a reference to grayscale film used from the 1920’s to the 1940’s, during the time of the American Great Depression. By using it in the “Yes, We Can” video, it could be construed as a comparison to the current economic regression. By highlighting the word “VOTE” in red, in comparison to the rest of the black and white film, it is like saying that this election will bring the “color” back to this nation. Essentially, voting equals change, and with Obama being the “courier” of change: voting for Obama is voting for change, which will “fix” the economic problems and restore “hope” to the nation.

Either way, the use of the filter in the film removes color, which itself is an interpretation of the medium: this issue is beyond color.

On the other hand, this method is also used to emphasize the word “vote” at the end of the film, which is highlighted in red. The color red is, in American politics, related to the Republican Party, while the Democrats use blue. By using the opposing party’s color in a Democratic nominee’s video, a link is built between the parties that could be construed as Obama’s acceptance by the Republican Party, which further strengthens the concept that he is the ideal candidate that will, in a way, unify the political factions.

The video is filmed in such a way that it distances itself from political parties, which implies that the candidate’s “side” is not important, but that the candidate is important. It suggests that Obama is above the political party he represents to the point that he is not even part of it; he is simply the candidate of choice. In fact, the video never states, verbally or visually, the name “Barack Obama.” It simply says “vote” at the end, not “vote for Obama.” This makes the commercial superficially appear impartial or nonpartisan; giving the audience the impression they are in control of their decision for choosing a candidate to vote for. But the fact that the video incorporates images of Obama, quotes Obama’s Nashua, New Hampshire speech musically while Obama speaks the phrases in the background, and constantly repeats Obama’s catchphrase “Yes, we can,” implies that instead of the act of voting in itself being important, the act of voting for Obama is important.

Another influential factor in the video is that it makes no references to particular issues that Obama or the Democratic Party stand for, but encompasses widely acceptable notions that most people would agree are important. Topics such as getting youth off the streets, addressing the importance of education, and “repair[ing] th[e] world” (Metrolyrics.com, 2008). In comparison to using objectives that solely represent a democratic ideal such as spreading the rights to abortion, the promotion of gay rights, or removing the American troops from Iraq. The words on the screen are carefully selected to acknowledge current social worries and essentially encompass what the public wants to hear. However, the concepts shown do not necessarily mean anything by themselves, but only in what they imply: ideas like “hope” and “change.” Hope for what? Change how (aside from political leaders)? The video never addresses what anyone is hoping for or what is going to change; merely it implies that Obama is the hope and will create the change, in such a way as it will fix all of the United States’ problems.

All of these elements are presented through video in a way only video can convey. “Yes, We Can” uses the camera’s medium to emphasize points that could not be made in any other medium. In the case of this political campaign, this advertisement uses the channel combination of auditory repetition combined with visual emphasis and effects, shown through websites that are extremely accessible to the public. The entire combination of media here is the message because it incorporates so many more persuasive factors than some people singing a song based on a speech would.


In recollection, four distinct communication theories best analyze the “Yes, We Can” video. Semiotic patterns devised and delivered by biased advertisers can be analyzed to uncover hidden agendas and techniques used to intentionally manipulate the viewers’ perceptions. The Agenda-Setting theory demonstrates that this video, along with other political campaigns, influence the audience’s perceptions towards a biased opinion provided by a media outlet. The Two-Step Flow Theory presents the idea that Will.i.am, as an opinion leader, obtains information from an impartial news source and shares a distorted version of the information with the audience to convey his own personal bias. His strong influence over his fans in particular and young audiences in general, makes for an especially persuasive campaign. Lastly, Medium Theory analyzes the use of video as a medium, how the messages presented by it are unique to video, and the influential effects of these elements.

Through analyzing the video “Yes, We Can,” we were able to uncover substantial evidence that Will.i.am’s video was not simply an impartial advertisement designed to raise voter awareness, but a privately funded campaign contribution. This substantiates that everything political, whether impartially based or not, is nonetheless biased to a degree. It is impossible not to be slanted towards one side or another because it is also impossible to ensure impartial information, whether in receiving or providing it. All information has to come from somewhere, and every time it is transferred, it is slightly altered or tailored to reflect the opinions of the courier. This is important because it emphasizes the influential powers of the media as a whole, and raises awareness to look for hidden agendas in all news outlets and advertisements. As far as the expectations posed by the media are considered, the only question left is: now that Obama has won the election, can he?


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