Four Reasons Why the Obamas Make Great Viral Videos

Some of it, they're just born with. The other stuff can be learned.

The President and First Lady have used viral videos to great effect while in the White House. Certainly, as US heads of state, anything that they do will get attention, which helps things go viral. But more than that, their videos are usually well-received, something you can’t say for a lot of internet videos that are either criticized or ignored.

In just the past couple of weeks, we’ve had the President joining forces with Buzzfeed to remind viewers to sign up for health insurance. And Michelle Obama went to the grocery store with Big Bird and Billy Eichner to encourage healthy eating. Both were pretty darn good.

Besides the fame that comes with their esteemed titles, President Obama and First Lady Michelle have a few special qualities that make their videos particularly successful. Here are the top four that provide some useful tips for PRs who are using video as part of their publicity campaigns.

They don’t take themselves too seriously. Now this one goes both ways. Some say that a portion of the appearances that the First Couple have made are undignified to the office. Many others (including me) would say that they recognize that times have changed. Capturing an audience means being where they are. And audiences have migrated online.

And BTW, when they have to be serious of course, they can be. The Obamas and their people are also masterful at staying on top of the most effective media outlets for the topic they’re looking to discuss. Below is a clip of President Obama speaking to Vox’s Era Klein about the wealth gap. If you have time, you can also click here to hear the President talk with Kara Swisher about technology for Re/Code.


The Obamas are able to capture the right tone for the clip they’re in. In other words, if you’re going to be a part of the production, be prepared to pay along.

They’re genuinely aware of pop culture. Maybe it’s because they have two teenage daughters, but you get the real sense that the Obamas genuinely know about the pop culture references they’re making in their clips. The President’s selfie clip shows that probably more than any other.

Last month, for example, House Speaker John Boehner (or his people at least) tried to take a dip in the pop culture waters by responding to the President’s proposal for free community college with a series of Taylor Swift gifs. The attempt fell flat in part because it’s completely detached from everything we know Speaker Boehner to be. Even now, I would bet a whole dollar that if I made a “Shake It Off” reference to Mr. Boehner, he wouldn’t know what in the world I’m talking about.

The Obamas seem to “get” the things the video projects they’re involved with.

They don’t hit you over the head with what they’re selling. The message that they’re trying to get across with their clips is definitely there. “Let’s move!” or “Get insured!” But they don’t spend a three-minute clip talking about it solely. And at the point where they’re going to make their pitch, they’re just as likely to do so with a zinger. Remember the “Between Two Ferns” video that President Obama made with Zach Galifianakis? At the point where the President launched into his Affordable Care Act talking points, the comedian brought on the snark (around the 3:30 mark).

They’re really funny. And smart. And good looking. And have a great sense of comic timing. And are clearly comfortable in front of the camera. These are things that you can’t buy. But they are qualities that you can play up. Being mindful of a client’s strengths and weaknesses is the only savvy way to approach the planning for the video you’re trying to make. Not everyone can be as great as the Obamas, but that doesn’t mean you can’t still get a good clip.

Feature image via Instagram

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