Archive for July, 2009

Health Care ads everywhere and no reform this month

July 31, 2009

I’m jet lagged and tired, so maybe I’m not watching this ad with all pistons firing.

In general, I think there are some interesting elements to the ad (mostly the visuals), and some frankly kinda weak elements, that in the end undermine its message.

Much like the “Fighter” ad I reviewed, this ad tells a story that resonates with the larger debate. Go back and watch that one. Which one do you connect to more?

I think it’s the earlier “Fighter” ad.

I really like the shots in this ad, the portrait of the owner, the portrait of him holding the picture with his family. (I did something similar in an ad once and the ad got skewered on Jon Stewart for it.) The line, “I pray my kids don’t get sick” is a powerful reminder of the dilemma facing too many families, and one that brings us into this man’s shoes, if only for a second.

I say only a second because then the ad launches into a policy litany. Again, maybe I’m too tired to really focus, but I can’t remember any of the details of it. I do remember suddenly not caring as much as I did just a moment before.

It’s a common mistake political ads make, the appeal to reason. Giving the facts, instead of telling the story.

The other element that didn’t work in this spot is also something I discussed in the “Fighter” review. Unlike the “Fighter” ad, where they keep the subject reading to camera off camera, she just does the voice over, in this ad they have the subject reading off of a teleprompter to camera. While he’s able to deliver most of the lines alright (some are a little stiff), his eyes never move. (Do they blink at all?) It just doesn’t feel relaxed or honest.

In addition, I always find it odd when regular people start talking about policy or how much Senator Ben Nelson has gotten from the insurance industry in an ad; it almost never rings true.

Why didn’t they just interview the guy? Get real answers, in his real voice? If Errol Morris can get Robert McNamara to say the Vietnam War was a mistake, then I’m not sure why they couldn’t interview Mike Snider, get him to talk honestly and openly about health care, and put the facts on the screen as CG?

Or do what they did the “Fighter” ad: just use b-roll of the guy, and not show him talking.

I guess it comes down to this: When the ad is personal, it works, when it’s not, it’s just noise. Unfortunately, it ends up being about 40 seconds of noise.

Can’t get enough of those health care ads

July 27, 2009

Please excuse the typos and grammar — my copy editor (my wife Nora) is on vacation.

Here’s another health care ad by Move On:

You know, I like the fact that they’re trying — a good metaphor is a great way to connect to a complex issue. That said, trying is about all I like about the ad. Maybe I’m over thinking this thing, but it’s really piss poor execution. The football through the air looks kind of silly, the music is overdone, and while I like the fact that they tried a metaphor, I’m not sure what the metaphor means or why I should care. Is it really a powerful metaphor? A political football? What’s at stake with a football in the air? Besides the metaphor, it’s kind of your standard political presentation.

Compare that metaphor with this one on health care:

The ad, produced by Americans United for Change, uses the symbol of a snail. What’s more the tone, the voice over and the music match with the concept.

Look, the ad’s not perfect, but it really sells almost the same argument in a much more effective way. You get the stakes, it mocks Republican’s delay tactics without being mean or too insider. We’ve been talking about health care for years, go slower? We’ve been moving at a snail’s pace. The only reason to go slower is to kill it. Makes sense, connects. Got it.

Metaphors are good, but you got to pick the right one to make them work.

Even more health care ads

July 25, 2009

Yet another health care ad (think things are heating up).

I only bring it up as a comparison to the the “Fighter” ad from yesterday.

My first reaction was, wow, they squeezed a lot of words in there. My second reaction was, I like the close up of the IV drip (not so much the money at the open). My third reaction was empty.

It ends up being just a bunch of words thrown at me. By trying to get everything into the ad, they achieved nothing. I don’t connect with the spot, it doesn’t move me, so ultimately it misses the mark.

They’d have been better off saying less to say more.

Another Health Care Ad

July 24, 2009

Just yesterday I reviewed a health care ad, and it seems like they’re popping up all over the place now. I dubbed the ad yesterday, “Illness,” the best one I had seen to date (even though I graded it an F).

This one from Health Care for America Now, “Fighter,” is pretty good and a lot more authentic.

It’s simple and clean, and it tells a story. I like that they don’t feel the need to make the woman read to camera. Her voice over might be a little flat but because you can’t see her, I think it works.

It’s still her voice, telling her story, but it’s more compelling using b-roll of her and the neighborhood, instead of her looking straight into camera. Reading into camera is tough for professionals to do and look good, if you’re not experienced with it, it looks awkward and less authentic.

Instead we feel like you know her better, we see her in her environment, and her read works. The ad feels honest and truthful.

I love the line at the end, “fine, I’ll take you both on.” It’s compelling and determined — it’s inspiring. They’ve created a vicarious connection between the woman in the ad and the audience — I feel like a fighter after watching it.

I wish they could have figured out a better end than the typical tell Congressman Cantor, blah, blah. Maybe just come up with the end card sans the “Tell Congressman Cantor” audio.

The goal of the ad is small, to put some pressure on Cantor and whoever else is targeted. But I think it’s pretty darn effective. Good job.

Ad Review: AHIP “Illness”

July 22, 2009

This ad is the best ad I’ve seen to date in the health care battle. Now admittedly, that’s not saying much. Most of the stuff out there is just, well… most of it is pretty forgettable.

Actually, when I say it’s the best I’ve seen, I should say, it’s the best I’ve heard. I was sitting across from my business partner today, and he was playing the ad. The sound, the copy, the woman vocalizing, that got my attention, and what happened from there…

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

Like I said, the spot gets your attention, at least my ear’s attention. “Illness doesn’t care where you live…,” with that gravelly voice and the woman vocalizing behind it, I was hooked from the first second.

I really like the simple portraits of people that populate the spot. In the beginning they layer them like a picture book, with the background images in black and white and the main image in color to focus your attention.

Later, after revealing their message (“let’s fix health care”) they bring them up full screen, but they don’t rush them.

“…and the words pre-existing condition become a thing of the past.” Wow. Bold statements. I’m interested now, where is this spot going.

You know, I’m not a big fan of the stand by your ad disclaimers. You know, the “I’m so and so, and I approve this message.” But in this case, what a let down. “We’re America’s Health Insurance companies….” If this were an ad, I’d cue the record scratch sound effect here. (Why do we use the record scratch anyways? When was the last time you heard that sound except to express surprise?)

Function (on a scale A-F): C

Huh? America’s Health Care Companies? What? Didn’t they say make pre-existing condition a thing of the past?

I really wasn’t sure how to grade out this ad for function. It’s great, it gets my attention, moves me emotionally, gets me to say, “hell yea,” then it leaves me speechless and confused.

I just don’t find it believable that America’s Health Insurance Plans (that’s how the disclaimer reads) are really interested in passing health care reform. Do you? Seriously?

While the ad is great, in the end, I don’t believe it. It’s a wasted message because it seems inauthentic. I just can’t get over that hump, and this ad doesn’t help me do it.

Either the people who created it felt like they could blow one by people, or that it didn’t matter, or they could get over the obstacle with the lyrical beginning. They couldn’t, it did, and the spot seems like a contradiction in the end — a great big lie with a candy coating and a cherry on top.

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

I wasn’t angry before this review, but I am now. I feel like I was tricked. They got me to care, then they pulled the rug out from under me.

This ad does a great job of presenting itself — auditorily it’s really great, visually it’s interesting if not innovative. But the message doesn’t connect with the messenger. That’s a big problem in my book, and my reason for an F.

What could they have done different? Maybe take a moment to explain themselves, even a simple line like, “You may be surprised that America’s Health Care Companies support health care reform, but we do…,” something to acknowledge the incongruity.

They don’t, and I feel dirty about actually caring about their message for the 24 seconds previous.

Beware the power of the negative

July 20, 2009

When I reviewed the Corzine negative, I didn’t actually talk at all about negative ads.

There’s the conventional wisdom about them that goes something like this: Everybody hates negative ads, but negative ads are the only things that can really move people and change numbers in a campaign.

So, you’re an incumbent down in the polls, let’s say you’re the Governor of New Jersey for the sake of argument. Go negative, move numbers — heck, your approval’s at 41%, can’t get any worse can it? You drive voters away from your opponent, and they end up either staying home or voting for you as the best of bad options.

Besides the obvious issue that this approach probably is a big part of the reason people hate politicians so much (not their politician, mind, you, just the general class of public servants). There’s also another price to be paid: Going negative tends to drive up your negative as well as your opponent’s.

It’s a dangerous decision in any campaign when to go negative. Of course, that’s assuming your general good enough/adequate negative ad — the garden variety negative you see most days in political campaigns. The big two no-no’s of negative ads are: 1) Over reaching: Saying more than you can legitimately prove; and  2) Attacking on something that’s not relevant to people’s lives or not making it relevant to their lives.

Like this new ad against Judge Sotomayer.

Look, I’m obviously not the audience for this ad, but seriously, do people really think Ayers is a “terrorist”? Are people ready to believe that Sotomayer supports terrorists? It’s a claim that’s so outrageous you’d better be able to prove it, and they can’t (and don’t).

There’s a new line of thought on negatives, which I think is true, that goes something like this: “People don’t hate negative ads, they hate bad ads.” (BTW, the author of the article is also the person responsible for the “Call me Harold” ad in Tennessee. While I actually think the ad was not something I would ever run, I agree with his take on negative ads.) Take this ad for example:

Oh, you were expecting a political ad, oops, my bad. A negative well done, that resonates, is like a ripple in pond. These Mac v. PC ads are perfect examples of that effect. Becoming a social phenomena that people actually seek out.

It’s always easier to activate fear and hate in viewers — that’s the way our brains are hardwired. But, if you can activate other emotions, humor for example, then you have a chance of avoiding some of the fallout from your attacks.

Something to remember next time you get that negative script and start thinking dark backgrounds, bad music, and fuzzy pictures.

Movie Recommendation

July 14, 2009

“The Hurt Locker”


Go see it. Not perfect, but really, really good. A war movie in the tradition of “Paths of Glory,” “Full Metal Jacket,” & “Three Kings.”

Remember, inspiration and ideas come from everywhere.

On being perfectly adequate

July 14, 2009

It’s been a busy week, so there’s been little time for blogging.

What’s more, I haven’t really seen anything that interesting to blog about.

That’s a point I wanted to make: I blog about spots and videos that are interesting to me, that inspire me one way (with glee) or another (with disgust).

While I knew I wanted to write a blog about raising the art of political advertising, I wasn’t exactly sure what I was going to write about day to day, week to week. Mostly, I’ve been posting about things that come my way. Last week, whether because I was too busy or because it’s the dog days of summer, nothing really inspired me.

That’s not to say I didn’t watch any videos — to the contrary, I probably watched 4 or 5, on health care, on alternative energy, a couple of candidate ads… And,…? Well, they were boring.  Perfectly adequate. Not one of them was memorable or really got my blood boiling to write about.

That’s the thing about adequate, it doesn’t offend, it’s safe — it probably tests pretty well in a focus group, but it doesn’t move you one way or another. (As a relevant aside, did you know that “The Mary Tyler Moore Show,” “Hill Street Blues,” and “Seinfeld,” all tested poorly with focus groups? That’s the thing about greatness:  it’s new and different, and I’ve already written about different.) I don’t want to be giving out B- and C+’s; I want to give out A’s and D’s — that’s where the fun is.

If all we strive for is perfectly adequate, all you’ll get is good enough. Good enough not to offend, good enough not to be embarrassing, good enough not to be remembered. Where’s the fun in that?

Such a fine line between stupid and clever

July 6, 2009

Ok, I feel like I know you all well enough to admit something: one of my big pet peeves is the notion of the “viral” video. What’s my issue?

Well, two specifically:

1. The idea that viral videos are cheap, that you can produce them for $2500 and get 1,000,000 hits. There’s this notion that some college kid in his (or her) basement is pumping out viral videos for the price of a case of beer. Great, I’d like to meet them. The most successful “viral” videos are usually fully produced pieces that cost $20,000 or more to make (or get donated).

Occasionally, you catch lightening in a bottle (if you’re Will Farrell, for example), but as a general rule, the best viral videos aren’t necessarily cheaper than a televised video. The internet has lowered the cost to entry — you don’t have to pay to air your video anymore — but your audience isn’t captive either, so you better give them a sugar coating.  Which leads to….

2. You can’t make a “viral” video. You can make a good video, promote it, push it out into the world, and hope it goes viral.  But if you try too hard (or are caught trying too hard), then forget it. Someone asked me about a guarantee that their video would go viral — I said there is no such thing. Another time a client wanted to promote their pet issue, they wanted a viral video, something that would get attention, how about an interview with a sitting US Senator on the subject…?  I guessed they’d get about 500 hits, if they were lucky.

This video does as good a job of breaking down the elements that make a video go viral. It’s longish (close to 10 minutes) but worth watching when you get some time. The two elements the interviewee highlights are 1) leave room for a conversation — is it real, what’s going, did it happen, how’d they do that, and 2) a sense of whimsy or fun. Essentially, you have to engage your audience, but have fun doing it.

There are some other usual tidbits in there, so if you’re interested in viral video (and if you’re a political or any other type of campaign, you should be interested) then go watch.

And here’s a link to Visible Measures’ top 10 viral videos of the week, which is useful for inspiration as well as seeing what you’re up against out there.

As you watch the videos on the list, just remember what the immortal David St. Hubbins of Spinal Tap said: “There’s such a fine line between stupid and clever.”

“We hold these truths…”

July 3, 2009

In honor of the Fourth of  July, I thought I’d post two videos of the Declaration of Independence.  Both have some interesting things going on visually.

The first, produced by the NFL before one Super Bowl or another.   Let’s face it, the Declaration once you get past that awesome beginning, is kinda a boring laundry list of complaints against the crown, this is kinda like the highlights (coincidence the NFL would produce a highlight show of one of the great historical documents).

I love the use of the fisheye lens for some of the closeups (like the Alan Page shot at 2:25) and the camera movement.

Here’s a Hollywood version, complete with, yes women reading (a limitation of the NFL’s version), it’s a little longer, but I do appreciate the intro that puts the declaration into its historical context, while also telling the story of how it has inspired our country to overcome its own limitations.  I think the staging is neat, and I like how the camera tracks through the readers at the beginning.  Beware, it’s 14 minutes long, we were really pissed at the British back then.

Happy Fourth of July.

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