How The "John Oliver Effect" Makes A Difference

by Melissa Cruz

John Oliver's brand of comedy may be just the thing to finally help bring the seemingly indestructible Donald Trump down in the polls. Since Last Week Tonight's "Make Donald Drumpf Again" segment went viral, Oliver has been in a unique position for satirical, heavy-hitting election coverage, especially since giants like Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert are now out of the game. The segment may have already made an impact, but if "Make Donald Drumpf Again" is to have a lasting difference, Oliver needs to make his mark in a media that is already over-saturated with messages about The Donald.

It seems as if some comedians have had a difficult time figuring out just where to hit Trump where it will hurt. As The Guardian points out, the GOP frontrunner largely seems in on the joke, crafting soundbites that would set up the perfect comedic roast had they come from any other candidate. But because Trump appears both immune to and to enjoy the attention from shows like SNL and The Late Show, it's become more and more difficult for that brand of comedy to do its job and skewer the candidate in any meaningful way.

But that's where Oliver comes in. After originally shying away from covering the real estate mogul, Last Week Tonight didn't pull any punches in its nearly 22-minute segment. The episode hit its peak when it brought up the fact that the "Trump" name originated as "Drumpf," a "much less magical" moniker held by the businessman's German ancestors.

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The host also called out Trump for his various failed businesses — a criticism that rippled out into the political world, with former Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney bringing up the same ill-fated ventures in his scathing speech against Trump just days later.

This apparently rubbed Trump the wrong way. The GOP frontrunner brought his steaks, water, and wine (all of which Oliver had brought up in his segment) to share with fans at a press conference after his victories in the Michigan and Mississippi primaries. The gesture seemed to be an in-your-face way of getting back at Oliver for blasting his products.

The comedian's influence doesn't stop with Trump, however. The "John Oliver Effect," as TIME dubbed it, has had some real-world impact. He's inspired legislation, crashed the Federal Communication Commission site after asking fan to weigh in on potential damaging changes to net neutrality, and raised thousands of dollars for worthy causes.

And with the Drumpf segment, Oliver has used his platform to bring attention to the discrepancies between Trump's public image and his actual abilities. In addition to firing up the GOP and the candidate himself, "Drumpf" has already had an effect on the presidential campaign.

For starters, "Drumpf" has altered the way people search for the candidate online. "Trump" has been one of the most Googled terms since last summer, topping the names of all of the other presidential candidates. The "John Oliver Effect" wasn't quite able to completely topple that lead, but after the segment aired, Trump is in some interesting company. In the hours leading up to Super Tuesday last week, the search term "Who is Donald Drumpf?" surpassed searches based around candidates Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio. Only Trump himself beat out "Drumpf" in terms of searches.

Experts say that Google data is a good predictor of how elections will skew — the higher they trend, the more likely a candidate is to do well. Oliver's success in making "Drumpf" trend the closest to "Trump" may say something about voters' ability to take him seriously.

The look of Google's browser changed, too. Last Week Tonight built its own Google Chrome extension which changes all online instances of "Trump" to "Drumpf." The extension has been downloaded more than 452,000 times and has a five-star rating on the Chrome Web Store. That means nearly half a million people are getting treated to "Drumpf" every time the real estate mogul pops up online.

You can't forget the "Make Donald Drumpf Again" hats either — perhaps the pinnacle of the "John Oliver Effect." The hats sold 35,000 copies, ultimately selling out entirely on the HBO site. A worthy cause, considering they were being sold at cost, and therefore making no profit for the company. But that does mean 35,000 people now have the chance to strike up a conversation with someone about their hat, and maybe even change their minds about The Donald.

Last Week Tonight's unique format and ability to carry out more long-term investigations is just the thing to assure that the "John Oliver Effect" continues to make a difference throughout the remainder of the 2016 presidential race. Oliver is constantly changing the way voters think, and you're sure to see Oliver continue to rightfully and hilariously bring the candidates to task.

Image: The New York Times