Tone.

I just finished writing about Daggett and his need to change the tone of his ads, and I saw a new health care ad this morning, and thought it was a good opportunity to write more generally about tone.

Maybe I should start with I read about this ad this morning first.  From the National Journal’s Morning Wake-up e-mail: “Americans United for Change is up with a TV ad on DC cable, arguing insurance execs. “are scared of competition…”  Wow, I thought that sounds like a good message, scared of competition, that could work.

Then I watched the ad:

Um, uh.  That’s disappointing, right?  I tried to think about why it was so disappointing and it comes down to tone.

Baseball and insurance companies? Huh?  Maybe the makers of the ad thought they’d hook me with a curious question, instead, it only seemed to minimize their story. Baseball, why are we dragging baseball into this?  It’s confusing and dumb.  It’s too cute and not funny enough to be funny.    The Blacksox scandal? What are they talking about.  And the images?  Sigh….

They have a real message to drive home here, insurance companies are scared of competition from the government. Why are they so scared?  If they’re doing such a great job (and the government is going to do such a crappy job so goes their allies comments), why should they care about a public option?  They should mop the floor with those guys.

Tone is such a subtle thing it helps us to frame the story the ad is trying to tell.  It’s something viewers pick up on from the sound of the narrator, the music, the images, it’s implied rather then spoken.  The baseball music, the flat images don’t imply the seriousness of the message.  Now you can contrast the tone with the message (also called being ironic), a serious message can be delivered in a comedic tone and when done well, it can be very effective.  But being funny is hard, just ask Steve Martin, it takes work.

Someone thought this was a good idea, but to me it looks like an ad that never worked on the script, and if it doesn’t work on the page, it’s unlikely it’ll work on the screen.

Like Chris Daggett, who I talked about earlier, it’s a good message ruined by the poor choice of tone.

P.S. I apologize for any grammatical errors, my copy editor (my wife) is away for a couple weeks.  Have I ever mentioned that I had to take remedial English in both High School and College?

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