National Obama campaign launches from SLO
September 4, 2008
By DANIEL BLACKBURN and KAREN VELIE
San Luis Obispo County may play a significant role in the upcoming presidential election.
This summer, two former California Polytechnic State University students, marketing whiz Cliff Branch and film director David Riordan, conceived and executed a massive national advertising campaign and dubbed it “Play it Forward.”
Branch and Riordan, political independents, funded the campaign with their own resources, without the knowledge or influence of either political party.
They have crafted a new-age media blitz that includes ads in selected publications including Newsweek, USA Today, Rolling Stone Magazine, and the San Francisco Chronicle. The ads prompt the viewers to go to TwoVoters.com for a virtual library of professionally crafted commercial videos, some of which are slated to begin airing on CNN, CNN Headline News, MSNBC, NBC, and Fox News today in St. Paul, at the Republican Convention.
The effort’s launch is aimed at helping ensure Democrat Barack Obama is elected president of the United States.
“I awoke one morning to find that, against all odds, Barack Obama had become the Democratic candidate,” Branch recalled, “so I called my old college friend Dave Riordan and suggested we put our normal lives on hold, and immediately develop a plan to help. We wondered, what could just two voters do that would make a real difference?”
Friends since the seventies, Branch and Riordan met through Warehouse Sound Co., a $10 million business Branch founded with Tom Spalding while a sophomore at Cal Poly. Branch and Spalding sold their enterprise to CBS Corporation shortly after leaving college. Over the years, Branch has turned other ideas into businesses such as California Cooperage, a spa company that he eventually sold to the Coleman Company. In Avila Valley, Branch and Jim Smith developed Bassi Ranch and the Avila Bay Club.
After college, Riordan pursued a career in music. Riordan and Branch produced three albums through Capitol Records and went on to produce benefit albums supporting the environmental movement.
Riordan co-wrote the national hit “Green-eyed Lady.” Eventually, his career included a stint as the creative director of Phillips POV Media, earning him seven interactive Academy Awards. He went on to direct the interactive divisions of both Disney and Time Warner.
Through the years, the pair remained close friends.
“We have been excited about Obama from the beginning,” Riordan said. “We talked about taking a shot at something, but it has mushroomed.”
Working 16 hour days, Branch wrote the original scripts, searched for volunteers, and planned the launch. Riordan conducted auditions, reworked scripts, and produced myriad spots.
Employing notable cinematographers and a virtual army of professional and amateur talent to work unpaid, the pair created a 25-minute DVD that contains a series of 15 commercial spots and a basketful of hard-hitting public service announcements.
“The whole idea was to create tools for citizens to send to undecided voters through the magic of the Internet,” Branch said. “With a click of your mouse, you can send our videos to anyone in the nation and help Obama win the election. Obama supporters will e-mail these videos to other Obama supporters who will spread the word through their own Web-based networks.”
Branch and Riordan are betting their resulting message will be universally persuasive, and they hope their Web site and its content will resonate quickly with millions of Americans.
Individuals, groups, and entities were organized into 35 categories by Branch to include those with a public pro-Obama position: “gate-keepers” in positions of influence who have the “highest possibility of passing on the videos” to local and regional media, and key voters; wealthy individuals who might pay to run one or more of the commercials in their local media market; and family, friends and personal contacts of the TwoVoters.com production.
“I’ve committed the personal resources to keep the national campaign going for about a month,” Branch said shortly before they launched. “By then, we hope it has enough supporters to increase the momentum.”
Enticing young voters to actually show up to vote is the paramount objective of the campaign, Branch added. The youth vote has been an elusive objective in elections past. Fewer than 23 percent of those between the ages of 18 and 29 voted in the last general election. With the right message, he believes, that age group can alter the landscape of the election.
A massive e-mail and targeted direct mail campaign is accompanying the media blitz.
The campaign is particularly remarkable in that it is being spawned in a county whose electorate generally votes Republican. It also uses the acting, directing, cinematic and mass distribution talents of a host of San Luis Obispo County volunteers. The first teaser ad began airing August 25, during the Democratic National Convention.
The first video to air is entitled “Are you better off than you were four-years-ago,” and ironically features footage of Ronald Reagan’s famous speech. To view the video, go to TwoVoters.com.
Other commercial titles include “The Maverick,” a satirical look at Republican standard-bearer John McCain’s self-assigned nickname; “National;” and “The Cost of the War.” The spots address a swath of unique voters – women, minorities, and, young people.
“We wanted to create a series of issue-oriented, non-inflammatory messages outside the mainstream political parties,” said Branch.
Branch said “it all changed for me” when President George W. Bush ordered the preemptive invasion of Iraq.
In late 2006, frustrated with the war in Iraq, Branch wondered what one person could do. Over the years, Branch had morphed into a devoted public servant. From promoting the arts, assisting the homeless, or providing funding for myriad local non profits, Branch has left his indelible imprint on California’s Central Coast.
After watching an early-morning Bush sound bite on Iraq, Branch typed out his thoughts, sent them in an e-mail to USA Today, plunked down $45,000 for the ad, and still managed to make it to the office on time.
The response surprised no one more than Branch. His thoughts sprung to the top of blogs and web sites nationwide. Friends and family members, along with tens of thousands of Americans, critiqued his early morning letter.
One response in particular helped propel Branch onto his current path. His mother, Betty, who was once the editor and publisher of the Carmel Outlook, and founded both the San Luis Obispo Women’s Center and Grandmother’s House, broke down when she told her son, “You’re carrying on the family tradition.”
The last month and a half has been a blur of long days and nights attempting to meet a production schedule that would have cost literally millions of dollars to purchase.
While Riordan’s assembly-line schedule has kept his media producers working around the clock, a complex formula for determining the most effective message, and disseminating it to a primary audience, has been busying Branch.
Branch assigned personnel to research and create a master list of 35 categories of addresses, e-mails and other pertinent information. These targeted entities include the major media outlets; sports, music, movie, and television personalities; anti-war organizations; Internet bloggers; labor union leaders; physicians, attorneys, scientists, and educators; political activists; U.S. senators and Congress members; women’s organizations; environmentalists; and key Obama supporters in swing states like Ohio, Florida, Pennsylvania, Michigan and New Mexico.
Branch said more than 1,500 of these specific individuals and organizations would receive complete media kits including printed materials and DVDs.
Branch said he has been overwhelmed with the support he has received from members of the local community, especially his long time friend and business partner of nearly 40-years, Jim Smith.
“When Cliff believes in something, he puts in a 110 percent effort,” Smith said. “And unlike a lot of people, he puts his money where his mouth is.”
Mere hours after learning about the existence of TwoVoters.com, Kate Younglove left Los Angeles to spend the remainder of the election period in San Luis Obispo heading up TwoVoters.com’s university program. Passionate about change, the recent Cal Poly graduate jumped at the opportunity to become involved.
“I think we can make a huge difference,” Younglove said. “We have a dream that this can become something bigger than all of us.”
Aside from mounting a powerful advertising campaign, Riordan and Branch were successful in attracting an impressive lineup of volunteers including Helen Rossier, global symposium director, consultant Jennifer Walton, Cal Poly assistant professor and graphic designer Brian Lawler, and photographer Forest Doud.
“People from San Luis Obispo County have banded together to show the country it needs to make a choice and everyone needs to get involved,” said Reggie Greenwood, TwoVoters.com’s San Luis Obispo County campaign director. “We want every voice to be heard.”
Working alongside Greenwald, Mariah Branch, Cliff Branch’s niece and the group’s national campaign director, coordinates volunteers, and identifies key Obama advocates.
“This is an incredible opportunity to make the world a better place,” said Mariah Branch, a former Peace Corps volunteer. “When people get jazzed and start building things, hope breeds in so many ways. I feel this is supporting the things my grandmother was passionate about.”
With only a few percentage points separating the candidates, both Democrats and Republicans have voiced motivations for becoming involved with TwoVoters.com.
“My parents celebrated their 63rd wedding anniversary and for the first time they are voting together,” said a local advertising firm executive who is assisting in the effort. “My mom is a Democrat and my dad is a Republican. They have always canceled out each other’s votes. After being here for 90 years, Dad feels we are going in the wrong direction and we need a change. Seeing his passion is what motivated me to get involved.”
LC Smith, a star in the local theater community, has written a song to accompany the soon to be released music video shot locally by Joe Olesh, a young filmmaker. The word around the studio, Branch notes, is that this might just be a hit.