Ben Relles was worried last spring when he read that voter registration was down because of COVID-19.
So far, #GoodToVote has resulted in a whopping 160,000-plus registrations — many of them from young voters.
Its magic ingredient? Incentives from famous people, posted on specially created landing pages on HeadCount, which is able to track and verify participation numbers.
Megastar and UpperDarby native Tina Fey, for example, promised to organize a reunion of the cast of Mean Girls if 5,000 of her fans used HeadCount to either register to vote, verify their voter registration, request a mail-in ballot, or volunteer as a pollster on Nov. 3.
Box-office smasher Samuel L. Jackson offered to teach his Twitter followers how to swear in 15 different languages if 2,500 of his fans took voting or registration action via HeadCount.
And actress Emma Roberts promised to release a long-ago and apparently embarrassing audition tape (which she described as #unfabulous) if 500 followers registered to vote through HeadCount.
“Part of what makes Good to Vote work is that the talent can post whatever challenge video they want,” said Relles of the campaign participants, who also include Meagan Good, Melissa Joan Hart, Jeff Goldblum, Francia Raisa, the Black Crowes, John Stamos, Rachel Levin, Alisha Marie, Freddie Wong, Epic Rap Battles, Rhett and Link, and Jack Douglass, among others.
“They film themselves. Then we track the number of people who register with their HeadCount link and report those numbers back. So fans know the message is coming directly from the stars. I believe that makes it more impactful than celebrity ads that have bigger production budgets behind them.”
Relles, 45, seems to have a Midas touch when it comes to combining politics and humor. He gained national fame in the video world back in 2007 by creating a hilarious video called “Crush on Obama," which featured a comely young woman singing a love song to then-presidential candidate Barack Obama.
The video went viral and to date has been viewed more than 75 million times, including 27 million views on YouTube.
The video was met with such acclaim that Relles left his job as a digital-marketing strategist to become a full-time YouTube creator. He now serves as head of innovation for YouTube Originals where — as the title suggests — he works on original programming.
“Even though [the Obama video] was three elections ago, I still always liked how can you use YouTube to be creative about engaging in the political process,” Relles said in a phone interview from his Los Angeles home.
That long-ago video also led to Relles meeting Barack Obama three times. The first was while Obama was campaigning in Brooklyn in 2007. The second was in 2014, when Relles and other YouTube stars advised the Obama administration on how the White House could do a better job of reaching the YouTube generation. The third time was at an event for It’s On Us, a White House-led campaign against sexual harassment on college campuses.
With #GoodToVote, Relles sees himself as a facilitator, not a creator, because "It wasn’t about me coming up with one video idea; it was coming up with a way for talent to very authentically talk to their fans and offer their them a fun way to participate in the process.”
Of the campaign’s 160,000 voter registrations, he said, 120,000 have come via the #GoodToVote pitch of David Dobrik, whose YouTube channel racks up more than 100 million views a month.
“He is the No. 1 most admired star among 18- to 24-year-olds,” said Relles, who hoped Dobrik’s #GoodToVote participation would grab the attention of voting-eligible Americans in that demographic. Dobrik’s offer: He would give away five cars — Teslas — each of which is worth $35,000.
Interestingly, Dobrik — a Slovakian immigrant who arrived in the United States with his parents when he was 6 — isn’t eligible to vote in this country. His message to #GoodToVote followers: “I can’t vote so please do it on my behalf.”
In addition to the 160,000 who have registered through #GoodToVote, said Relles, another 500,000 have verified their registration.
“That is so important because when you verify, you find your polling place — you’re ready to vote,” he said. “For instance a lot of Samuel L. Jackson’s fans are older and have registered, but a lot of them were just verifying the registration.”
As for Relles, there’s one video he appreciated most.
“My favorite, I think, is when Florence Pugh posted that 1,700 people had registered or verified using her #GoodToVote link," Relles said. "It’s just her talking to her fans, and that video made me so happy.”