Archive for June, 2010

Is it enough?

June 30, 2010

I know I just posted, but this ad is worth watching.  I think it is well, done, it’s tie in to images that are in the public consciousness is very effective, it doesn’t take time to over explain its premise, it has some nice detail (the scrubbing of the hands and watch), and it has an element of the unexpected.

The spot does a good job of brining attention to the issue of Climate Legislation, though I’m not sure if actually makes a good case for why we need that legislation.  Is invoking images of oil covered animals enough?

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That’s the Chicago Way…

June 30, 2010

“They pull a knife, you pull a gun. He sends one of yours to the hospital, you send one of his to the morgue. *That’s* the *Chicago* way!” – The Untouchables

“The Untouchables” was one of my favorite movies in High School.  I have no idea if it still holds up, but I sure did love it, and it had more than its share of memorable lines.

I quoted the line above as a lead into the battle for Illinois Senate. (I know Illinois is not only Chicago, but it’s a great quote and relevant, so bear with me.)

A couple of months ago, it seemed that Alexis Ginnoulias’ campaign was going down because of the failure of his family’s bank, I wrote about his ad coming out of that scandal here. Well, now it appears that Mark Kirk’s campaign has hit a seemingly insurmountable scandal.

After a month of dodging and hiding, Kirk has decided to try and put the heat back on his opponent with two ads:

I like how the BP add touts Kirk’s environmental record, it’s unexpected so it gets my attention.  I’m not so taken with the attack on Giannoulias.  It’s a little all over the place, an aide worked for BP and he’s for higher energy taxes?  The fact that the narrator is trying make some link for me doesn’t really help, if you don’t feel or see the link for yourself if you have to be told (“Big differences on the environment and taxes”) it loses its power.

The second ad is more of the same, it’s hiting Giannoulias for being only 34, then hitting him for loans to mobsters, then losing money in the College fund as treasurer, then he supports higher taxes for more spending. It’s a lot to pack into one ad, and while they’re supposed to be linked thematically (you can’t trust him with your money), I’m still trying to take in the information as the next item comes up, and in the end, I don’t really get any of it either emotionally or intellectually.

The last line bothers me too, “Alexi Giannoulias, trust him with your money…” It’s supposed to be a question, but the read doesn’t quite pull it off, and it feels awkward — I think they ran out of time for the narrator to either ask the question or give the line the inflection it needed.

I had a friend who worked in commercial advertising who always wondered why political ads had so much crap pilled into them.  This is a perfect example of that approach, “Hey, let’s pull all the lines that polled well against Giannoulias.” I think this ad and the previous one would have been better off with a less is more approach.

The overall sense with two ads, is that the Kirk campaign is wildly throwing haymakers trying to counter punch it’s way out of the corner, instead of using a timed timed Jab that catches the other campaign off balance.  If I was working on the Kirk campaign, I would worry this approach would come off as desperate, fighting from weakness and fear instead of confidence and strength.  I also wonder if Kirk wouldn’t have been better off facing the elephant in the room, apologizing on the air, and turning that apology into his core message somehow.

The Giannoulias folks obviously were expecting an attack because 24 hours after Kirk’s attack they released their own attack on Kirk:

I think their approach is interesting: There’s no narrator, just the disembodied voice of newscasters, reporting and discussing  Kirk’s lies and misrepresentations (and Kirk himself uttering them).  It’s entirely focused on that one issue, and obviously the creators thought enough of the attack to let the ad run one minute.  Compare this to the sixty seconds (over two ads) of the Kirk attacks…. I think the difference is clear. I’m not sure I could repeat any individual Kirk misrepresentation, but I think the overall impression, that Kirk has repeatedly said things he knows to be untrue, sticks with me.  While on the other side, I’m not sure if any of his attacks stays with me cleanly (frankly the thing I remember most is that Giannoulias is 34, which I think makes him accomplished in my eyes, not too young).

My one quibble is the final line, “Typical Washington Politician,” feels like too much of a cliche to describe this situation, kind of a stretch as well. I might have ended with all the quotes on the screen, and let the viewer make their own conclusion.

Still I think the lesson for today is as hard as it is to cut good stuff from an ad, less is often more.

In my opinion, Kirk brought a knife to a gunfight, a definite no-no. This round goes to Giannoulias.

On a lighter note

June 24, 2010

A while back I posted a video parody of a new cast.  I talked a little about cliche, genre, and the the uses and limits of shorthand.  This parody of a political ad obviously makes good use of that shorthand.

As you watch the political ads roll out of the meat grinders this political season, look for those cliches, and think how would you have done it differently?  How could you surprise your audience?  How could you use their expectaions to your advantage?

Still, this is pretty funny.

This is Different

June 16, 2010

I’m not sure how I feel about this one.

Here’s what I like about it: it’s different, it’s impressionistic rather than linear or literal, and it only tries to make one or two impressions despite all the images.  I also like that they don’t spend time trying to explain what we’re seeing though a couple of the shots at the end had me perplexed as to their meaning.

Maybe more importantly the spot seems to capture the little I know about Alan Grayson — he’s bold and out spoken, and this spot is certainly bold.  It feels true to him.

Why am I conflicted? I don’t know. I almost didn’t write this post because I don’t like writing I don’t know, it’s not satisfying for me, and I’m sure it’s pretty boring to read. Just something rubs me the wrong way.

It’s just a feeling, that the spot is trying to hard or something.  Maybe that’s it, I can feel creators presence, but not in a guiding Errol Morris kind of way, but in an overdone Michael Bay way.    Maybe that’s something voters won’t notice, maybe it only bothers me.  Maybe it’s what works for the spot because it fits Grayson, but it makes me not want to like the spot.

A tale of two ads

June 15, 2010

Been a long time between posts, sorry.  Thought I’d make up for it looking at two ads today.  The ads are pretty different but both are thematically the same (after watching them you may think I’m crazy for saying that).  Both ads play upon voter anger at “broken” government.

The more traditional of the two ads.  Wonder why the guy is wearing a t-shirt?  Shhhhh…. don’t tell anyone but Charlie Baker was a CEO at a big time health insurance company.  This ad was kinda strange to me.  What’s the deal with basketball?  I don’t get it.  Again, I’m all for doing something different, but it just feels fake to me.

People hate CEO’s and politicians so we’ll put him in a t-shirt and show him playing basketball with his son.  People will love that!  He’s just like you, get it? Awesome.

I think Robert McKay in his arrogant but seminal book, “Story” said something like a baseball hat is not character — meaning just putting a character in a baseball cap does not tell you anything about the character’s character.  What the character does tells you something about who he (or she) is.  It’s about action, not what they’re wearing.

It seems to me like Baker is trying to run away who he is from and his story.  The guy went to Harvard, he was a CEO of a health insurance company, that’s the elephant in the room, better to embrace it and own your story, than let the other guys tell their story.

The ad is fine in terms of shots and the way what it is made, but it just feels phony.

This next ad goes in a different direction:

Well this is one way to go.  Not sure what’s in the water down in Alabama, but they sure are going for it down there.  So where to start?  On the positive side, I think it’s actually well filmed, I like the shaky cam, documentary feel.  I think the reveal is also nicely handled.

The ad is actually playing on the same anger at government as the Baker ad, though obviously going in a way different direction.  I think where the Bake ad feels phony this ad at least feels honest in its emotional center.  They’re definitely going high concept for political ads.

I can almost see the consultants in the room coming up with concept:

“We revolted over a tea tax for christsakes.”

“Hey, what if that was the ad…”

“No, no what if he was talking with Sam Adams, George Washington, telling them about what’s going on…”

High fives all around….

Look, I find this ad scary, and not intellectually honest, but I think that misses the point of it.  I do wonder who they’re aiming the ad at? If they get 100% of their base vote, do they get any of the independents you usually need to win a general election?  I mean come on, “Gather your armies?” Seems like a pretty radical message even for Alabama. [Ed Note: Seems Barber is in a Republican runoff, so this message is directed at his base.  I guess you have to win the election in front of you, but there is tacking to the right, and there is damn the torpedos full speed to the right. Reading his responses to questions about the ad, he’s also trying to play it coy which undermines the authenticity of the feeling the ad is designed to manipulate.]

My partner Dan loved the ad and talked about how honest it was.  I think it’s a little too honest.  There’s the text of an ad or campaign and the subtext.  This ad seems to confuse to the two (or maybe it is not a confusion, maybe it is deliberate).  All that anger and fear of government could be the subtext, but to be so on the nose with it feels a little like drinking from a fire hose.

I think when I looked at the Tim James ad (also from Alabama) I said if Tea Party and the radical right learned how to package their anger into a cooler more thoughtful package, they would be a dangerous force.  This ad tells me they still haven’t figured that out yet, which is good those of us who love this country.

It reminds me a little of the story of the Scorpion and the Frog.

Another theme is that the Tea Party is trying to own the symbolism of the American Revolution. Again, I feel like this ad is so on the nose in that attempt.

Marc Ambinder recently wrote an article titled, “Has the Tea Party done anything good for the GOP?”

The GOP hoped to channel all that anger into their party structure, but like the frog, they lost site of one key fact — the they are scorpions after all.

Try a little Honesty

June 1, 2010

A good commentary by Bob Garfield on why doesn’t KFC just embrace who they are, and try a little honesty in it’s advertising.

For those who haven’t heard KFC is donating money for every pink bucket of chicken you buy.  Stunts like this don’t work precisely because they are stunts that don’t connect with any deeper meaning.  What does KFC stand for?  I don’t know, do you?  Does KFC?  What do they have to do with breast cancer?  No idea.

This is akin to a campaign throwing an issue out there just because it scored well in a poll.  It all has to have some deeper meaning, some connection to make sense in the mind of voters or it’s just another stunt.

Dueling Arkansas ads

June 1, 2010

I had meant to write a dueling ads post when looking at the Halter ad, but I got distracted by other issues.

I find the Lincoln ad much weaker than the Halter ads.  The ad teeters on the brink of being interested and connecting, but swerves too much into rational argument and does not do enough to leverage the power of emotion.  Lincoln’s actually really good to camera, the problem is, I just don’t believe her.  I like the I know you’re angry at Washington, but I feel it isn’t followed up with anything, won’t back down to the Unions and Banks? Huh?

I wish she had just stared with, “I’m Blanche Lincoln, and I approve this message because I’d rather lose this election fighting for what’s right, than win by compromising on my values.  I know voters are angry….”  The other crap is really useless here, for Lincoln to win now, she has to show voters she gets it, she needs to connect with them, and show them she’s seen the light.

Now that’s pretty unlikely given that she hasn’t “gotten it” yet, and there’s little reason to believe she’s making anything other than an election eve conversion.  And that’s the problem, when you don’t really believe in anything (or at least don’t appear to believe in anything) other than getting re-elected, you don’t engender any loyalty in voters.  The mistake the campaign has made from the first ad I reviewed was trying to tell voters what was in it for them, rather focusing on connecting with voters.  Given recent polls, Arkansas Democrats are obviously decided what’s in it for them is sending a message.

The sincerest form of flattery

June 1, 2010

Can’t avoid the Halter Lincoln race as much as I would like to.

Does this ad seem familiar to you?

I like these kind of slice of life ads.  The Halter ad is a little too heavy on issues for my taste, but I suppose they got to put it in there.  It feels like it’s trying just a little too hard to be homey.  Compare it to the Brown ad which is more authentic and organic. Still, I think these ads are about likability, and they’re about the kind of person who is supporting the candidate.  And I think the Halter ad succeeds on that front.

Rob Walker in his book, “Buying In,” makes the case that we buy products that reinforce the image we have of ourselves.  So essentially, the places we shop, the foods we eat tell a story about us, a story we want to convey to the world.  I don’t go to Starbucks, I go to Dunkin Donuts — that says something about your identity to the world.  I think it’s true for candidates as well. I remember during the primary a unnamed woman friend of mine agonized who to vote for, Obama or Clinton.  She tried to rationalize her choice of Clinton, but still felt unsatisfied.  After she voted we spoke, I asked who she voted for and she Clinton, but added, “I feel like a traitor to my generation.”  Her identity as a woman was stronger in that moment, but she was conflicted because of what voting for Obama represented — change, being hip, being a true progressive etc, hope.  Clinton was the status quo.  She was so worried about what her vote said about her she swore me to secrecy.  That’s the power of identity, choice and stories.

That’s a lot of weight to thirty seconds.


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