Three years after their music video about Barack Obama went viral, Amber Lee Ettinger and "I Got a Crush... on Obama" creator Ben Relles have managed to monetize their company. They sat down for an interview with Business Insider.
In February 2007, Barack Obama announced plans to run for the presidency of the United States. One month later, Ben Relles came up with an idea to create a music video about a girl with a crush on the Illinois senator.
Relles enlisted singer-songwriter Leah Kauffman to write and sing the song, but Kauffman couldn't pull out of her busy schedule as a student to film the video. So, Relles went in search for someone to star in this web video and found Amber Lee Ettinger, who everyone now knows as the "Obama Girl."
The video, titled "I Got a Crush... on Obama," was posted onto YouTube on June 13, 2007 and initially didn't attract many clicks. A few days later however, the video turned viral when it was picked up by the ABC News blog.
We recently had a chance to sit down and talk with Amber Lee Ettinger and Ben Relles about their viral video experience.
"The morning that the video got picked up by ABC—it was just a normal day for me, and all of a sudden my house phone was ringing off the hook," Amber Lee Ettinger told us. "It just totally blew my mind, and then I was getting whisked to every news station and back-to-back interviews. So, that day is like a blur."
"I Got a Crush... on Obama" would also become the first ever video created by political satire site Barely Political—also the brainchild of Ben Relles. Capitalizing on the public's infatuation with the "Obama Girl," Relles was able to fund his video production endeavours by putting the song up for sale on iTunes and selling t-shirts.
The strategy applied by Relles and his team was to then create more videos focused around Ettinger as the "Obama Girl." However, due to their limited resources, the political satire site could only release one video every few weeks.
Then, with the Democratic presidential primaries right around the corner, Next New Networks, an online video network of original web series, acquired Barely Political in October 2007. With the acquisition, Ben Relles now had a much more stable revenue stream beyond iTunes and t-shirt sales.
"We've moved much more towards an advertising model where we actually find sponsors for our videos which pay for our production team and has enabled us to scale to a place where we're doing a lot more on a regular basis than the 'Obama Girl' series," Ben Relles told us.
Barely Political has indeed produced much more original content, and in January 2009, Relles expanded his site's reach further into technology and pop culture with the launch of Barely Digital. The two sites combined now have hit series like "Auto-Tune the News" and the "Key of Awesome." (Interesting side note: the Key of Awesome's music video parody of Kesha's "Tik Tok" has more views than the actual music video.)
While Barely Political has moved on from just producing "Obama Girl" videos, Amber Lee Ettinger still works with the Barely team while keeping busy with her own enterprises.
"Right now, I'm working on my new channel – it's called '2 Girls 2 Minutes' – on YouTube, and I'm also working on a book – it's like a self-help handguide for teenage girls," Ettinger told us. The "Obama Girl" is also running her own jewelry line called "Inspired by Amber."