LOS ANGELES (CBS) — Los Angeles City Attorney Carmen Trutanich has hit the big time on YouTube, with two of his campaign videos promoting his run for district attorney getting a whopping 725,000 views, more than any video from a GOP presidential candidate.
Was it Trutanich’s powerful campaign message that captivated viewers? Or was it his stories of being shot at by gang members? Turns out his viral views were thanks to an online marketing firm hired to generate hundreds of thousands of views.
Following a Trutanich news release, hailing the videos’ popularity as proof of broad support for Trutanich’s candidacy, the campaign admitted that it had hired an online marketing firm to pump up views by aggressively advertising the videos across the Internet. The Los Angeles firm told KCAL9’s Dave Bryan that they were paid to generate 150,000 to 250,000 views, which led to natural videos views by hundreds of thousands more people.
“It was wildly successful — we were very, very happy with what we did,” said Trutanich campaign strategist John Shallman. “We had 727,000 people view our video. Within a few days of people viewing our video we had 2,000 people sign up to volunteer for Carmen Trutanich and donate online.”
However, the videos, which appear to have been removed from YouTube, don’t seem to be as popular as say, comments, would indicate. YouTube apparently suspended the accounts of most of the users who left positive comments on the Trutanich videos, citing violations of its policy against commercially deceptive content, the Los Angeles Times reported.
A Connecticut-based firm told the Times that they were paid to generate 400,000 views — however, people were not paid to watch the video.
So how many actual videos views from LA voters did Trutanich get? It’s not known, but the Times conducted an experiment to see how many videos views might result out of paying for an initial number. The newspaper uploaded a 1-minute-47-second video of paint drying and paid $103 for 40,000 views. After eight days, that video of blue paint drying had gotten 60,000 views.
“It’s hard not to come to that conclusion that they were trying in some fashion to game the system by manufacturing something on social media that they were orchestrating from the very beginning,” according to Cal State Los Angeles professor Jaime Regalado, who teaches political science.
Regalado said a candidate running to be the top prosecutor in L.A. County that’s not the image they should be portraying.
“If you have a trail of negativity, real or perceived by the voters, and all it needs to be is perceived by voters in large math, then your campaign is in danger,” the professor said.
Shallman addressed the possible negative perception of the video.
“Well, we absolutely played by the rules. In fact, you’re going to start seeing more and more candidates for office playing by these exact rules which is: ‘Wow, I can get 700,000 people to watch my commercial or to watch my video — I’m going to do it.’ This is the wave of the future,” Shallman said.
“By any means necessary?” asked reporter Dave Bryan.
Shallman replied, “Well, by appropriate means, not by any means because there are certainly improper ways for people to get their message out to voters — there’s nothing improper about this.”
The political strategist said this is no different than any kind of advertising that encourages people to watch the video.
Opponents say that isn’t necessarily true; they say Trutanich’s team still paid a company to artificially increase the numbers when many of those viewers don’t know anything about Trutanich or even live in L.A. County — most of them are just clicking on a link.