Review: Chris Dodd Fighting Back for Us

This may be the first ad in the 2010 election season.  If you’re an incumbent US Senator running an election ad in May, a year and a half before the election, well, it doesn’t take a pollster to know you’re in trouble.  According to Nate Silver at FiveThirtyEight.com, this is number 3 on the list of seats most likely to change parties and number one among incumbents.  That’s quite a feat.  Nate finishes his analyisis with, “the important thing about Rob Simmons is not that he’s Rob Simmons, but that he’s not Chris Dodd.”

That’s interesting in light of the ad, an ad for Chris Dodd, about Chris Dodd, in which Chris Dodd hardly appears.  Even when he does appear, it’s in a group shot alongside President Obama.

Form (on a scale A-F): B-

Nothing really compelling about the form, it’s a pretty standard-issue political ad.  They did a nice job of making the stills interesting; adding the black and white to the end gives those images a sense of weight and importance — not inventing the wheel, but nicely done, nonetheless.  Pretty moves on the pictures.  I like that they didn’t try to cram too many shots into the spot and kept the pacing nice and easy.

Still, it’s striking that Dodd hardly appears in the ad, and when he does, he’s not front and center.  Between Obama and the woman in pink (Rep. Carolyn Maloney), it’s hard to find Dodd in that group shot.  I think that was deliberate.

Function (on a scale A-F): Incomplete

Is it a cop-out to say time will tell?  The ad is an obvious attempt to re-position Dodd: look he’s with Obama! You like Obama, Obama said his name, he helps people and fights big mean credit card companies, you don’t like them.  Get it?

The only 2 pictures of Dodd show him in a group with Obama in the center.  Dodd’s part of the Obama team.  You might be angry with him, but Obama needs him — Obama says that in his Dodd shout out, and it’s reinforced in the visual.

Final Grade (on a scale A-F): B-

Can one ad undo the damage that has been done to Dodd’s reputation?  Probably not.  Fortunately for Senator Dodd, it’s early enough in the election cycle that it doesn’t have to carry all the water in one audio-visual package.  This ad is the first of many to come.

A new study published in Advertising Age says “Though most campaigns cluster ads in a short period of time, consumers retain information better if it’s spaced out over longer intervals.” (Their emphasis.)  If this is the first of a long series of ads reframing Dodd, it’s probably a modest success.  If Dodd can continue to avoid the kind of special treatment stories that got hin into trouble, then this story can help smooth over the damage done and remind people why they voted for Senator Dodd over and over again.

This ad is also a good reminder that its hard to judge an ad out of the context of the campaign. If Dodd wins next November (assuming he makes it out of a primary), nobody will remember this ad, but ti probably played some small role in changing the Dodd story from a Seantor who’s out for himself to a Senator who is fighting for folks.  In that way, its kinda like the grunts on the ground in a war, doing its duty to the best of its ability, but part of a larger effort.

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