Political parody draws Web crowd

Online lampoon of Bush and Kerry garners staggering numbers of clicks, leaving the Web filmmakers awestruck.

Matt Hines Staff Writer, CNET News.com
Matt Hines
covers business software, with a particular focus on enterprise applications.
Matt Hines
3 min read
This land is your land, this land is my land, and during the month of July, the landscape of online political satire belonged squarely to JibJab.

Upon strolling into the offices of JibJab Media on Monday, company co-founder Gregg Spiridellis was presented with some staggering numbers. According to Internet statistician ComScore Media Metrix, JibJab's online lampoon of President Bush and Sen. John Kerry received 10.4 million unique hits during the month of July.

To put that number in perspective, the bipartisan political prank accounted for more than three times as many visits as did the official campaign Web sites of the presidential candidates themselves.

"Wow," Spiridellis said, as he considered the site traffic totals for the first time. "It's really staggering to look at the list of top-ranked sites and see who we're ahead of."

The short film takes pokes at both candidates with a spoof sung to Woody Guthrie's tune "This Land is Your Land." The animated Flash video drove an additional 8 million hits to the AtomFilms site, which also hosted the piece and helped stream the movie for JibJab's site.

By comparison, ComScore said roughly 3.3 million Americans visited the Kerry-Edwards 2004 site and GeorgeWBush.com in July, with that race handily won by Kerry's site, which accounted for 2.2 million hits. Neither campaign immediately returned phone calls seeking comment on the parody's success.

Among the sites outranked by JibJab, a Santa Monica, Calif.-based provider of online and broadcast animation, were those operated by some the country's best-known businesses, including soda giant PepsiCo, office supply specialist Staples and hotelier Marriott. Those three Web properties were highlighted by ComScore for substantially increasing their traffic during July.

According to Spiridellis, the parody has been viewed more than 40 million times since being launched July 9. JibJab's previous online success was a political comedy launched in 2000 that featured Bush and former Vice President Al Gore in a battle of freestyle rappers. But that piece garnered only 5 million unique hits in total.

"It's just amazing," said Spiridellis, who founded JibJab with his brother Evan in 1999. "It really speaks to the power of word-of-mouth advertising."

Spiridellis said JibJab didn't spend a dime to promote the movie. Instead, a promotional e-mail sent out to 250,000 registered members of the company's "fan list" set off a tidal wave of Internet buzz. The parody was posted countless times on Internet forums and joke sites, he said. That's helping the company increase the profits it derives through advertising.

However, the traffic onslaught hasn't come without its headaches. Spiridellis said JibJab's lone server was at one point crushed by the torrent of activity. He said the site was "saved" by JibJab's hosting company, Data Return, which he credits with doing an "awesome job" in keeping the comedy up and running. Spiridellis pointed out that many Web hosting companies would have booted the company for generating too much Web traffic, while Data Return went "above and beyond" to help it stay live.

While the production has yet to generate major dollars for JibJab, Spiridellis said the hit parody is helping the company bring in new business, such as advertising campaigns and even potential movies. The site is also hawking T-shirts and other apparel inspired by the satire.

The political movie did manage to attract the attention of music publisher Ludlow Music, however, which owns the rights to Guthrie's original song. The music company sent JibJab a cease-and-desist letter, asking that the site be taken down. The online media company responded with legal action aimed at defending its fair-use rights to the music.

Ludlowmusic.com, unaffiliated with the song's owner, is currently hosting the JibJab movie.

Spiridellis said the case, which was filed in California District Court and is being overseen by the Electronic Frontier Foundation, remains "up in the air," but he believes his company will win.