Why this silent watermelon is making a bigger noise in the US election race than Donald Trump and Joe Biden

The 'register to vote' watermelon GIF
This simplest of visual messages has reached an astoundingly large audience online Credit: GIPHY.com

Fred Dimbleby is analysing the 2020 US election campaigns online for our US election podcast Will Trump Win?

Here the resident 'digital detective' explains how both campaigns are using GIFs to win over voters - and why they're no match for a silent watermelon...

Most people wouldn’t think that GIFs would be part of serious political campaigning.

The short-form muted video format is better known for using excerpts of popular content to communicate on platforms like WhatsApp, than for attracting voters to a presidential candidate.  

But in this 2020 campaign the two men racing for the White House have embraced the strange world of GIFs.

Listen to Fred and the Will Trump Win? team analyse GIFs in the latest episode below...

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Both Joe Biden and Donald Trump have accounts on GIPHY, one of the biggest producers of GIFs, and have been posting to wide audiences.Why Biden is enjoying more success with his GIFs 

Joe Biden’s GIFs are well produced and publicise comic or visually interesting moments from the campaign.

One simply shows Joe Biden running, an unsubtle rebuke to Republican attacks about his fitness for office.

In another, he is barbequing some food with a group of supporters around him.  

Biden’s vice presidential pick Kamala Harris is also the subject of multiple GIFs published by the campaign.

Joe Biden is portrayed in a positive light in the first few GIFs on GIPHY.com Credit: GIPHY.com

One shows her talking to former President Barack Obama.  

One of the most interesting examples, published by the campaign, is a GIF that references the popular video game Animal Crossing.

In the video, a smiling character is seen putting up a vote Biden/Harris placard on their front lawn.

These GIFs show a distinct vision of the Biden campaign to the professional facade they project in public, and they are attracting significant attention.

So far, the 277 gifs posted by the campaign have attracted over 55 million views. 

The Trump campaign also has an account which was successful for a period, gaining 20 million views.

Donald Trump is portrayed in a more comical light in the first few GIFs on GIPHY.com Credit: GIPHY.com

One of most popular gifs shows Trump swinging a baseball bat.

However, the GIFs are less adventurous than those of his opponent and, despite initial success, the campaign hasn’t posted since late July.

The timing of the last post is significant because it came shortly after Brad Parscale’s demotion as campaign manager and the general belt-tightening in the Trump campaign that followed the shake-up. How unofficial campaigns are playing a dominant role

It is not just official accounts that are posting political content in this election cycle.

Popular political GIFs, which are predominantly aimed at younger users, have been posted by a wide array of users on GIPHY.

Most of these have Democrat and Biden supporting messages.

One group, called Creative Courage, has over 265 million views from this type of content.

Partisan supporters are also appealing to voters on social media Credit: GIPHY.com/Creative Courage

Other popular political content is unpredictable, but also sways towards the Democrats.

A GIF of previous Democratic presidential primary candidate Andrew Yang dancing has had over 47 million views and is trending worldwide.  

Get out the vote campaigns have also gained significant attraction.

One post, showing a watermelon with the words ‘register to vote’ on it, has had over 166 million views.

It’s the type of audience that political campaigns could only dream of.   

Why hope is not lost for Trump and the Republicans 

While pro-Biden and get out the vote content - which tends to target left-leaning voters - dominate GIPHY, the Trump campaign have had some success.  

Trump himself is the star of a large number of popular GIFs – his outlandishness makes him suited to the style of the video format.

But interestingly, his campaign has also cut through during the election cycle.

Five words from Melania Trump's televised RNC speech went mega-viral Credit: GIPHY.com

A number of videos from the Republican National Convention were viewed so often by users that they trended.  

One of the most popular was a GIF of Melania Trump’s speech at the convention.

The video has attracted over 15 million views.  

Another popular moment from the convention simply showed the Vice Presidential couple, Mike and Karen Pence, on stage together, gaining over 20 million views from users.  

But can a few seconds of silent video really influence this election?Biden’s campaign and the Democratic Party are winning the battle for GIF-views.

The natural audience of the video format aligns with their younger supporters and so the popularity of their content is unsurprising.  

However, the cut-through of the Republican campaign during their convention shows that GIFs could be a useful tool for them in the last part of the election cycle. 

The most interesting political signal, from the GIF world, is the large numbers who are viewing content about voting and registering to vote, with the watermelon the stand-out example.

If that audience follows through and casts their ballot, these simple, underproduced muted videos could end up making a big noise come election day.

More from our digital detective Fred Dimbleby: