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SXSW lesson: How to fake authenticity

March 14, 2009 |  2:38 pm

Actor George Burns is reputed to have said, "The secret of acting is sincerity. If you can fake that, you've got it made."

The quote came to mind this morning at a panel at the South by Southwest Interactive Festival, "What Your Start-up Can Learn From Barack Obama and Howard Dean." Moderator Clay Johnson of Sunlight Labs, a veteran of the Dean campaign from Blue State Digital, said companies that send out e-newsletters generally just annoy their customers. But the Obama campaign cleverly created the illusion of intimacy.

"You would get an e-mail from Barack Obama," Johnson said. "And it's not to everyone. It's to you."

When he tells people that he helped write those e-mails, people often looked stunned. "People would look at me and say, 'Barack didn't write those e-mails?' And they look really sad," he said.

Mary Katharine Ham -- a regular in the Weekly Standard and on Fox News and the only Republican on the panel -- seized on the revelation and put her own spin on it: "Obama lied, and lonely liberals with lots of cats cried."

-- Dan Fost