Playing with and against your story

A couple of ads from the Republican primaries.

Ron Paul is up first, with a very stylistic ad heralding the coming of a new asteroid er, I mean a debt ceiling compromise.

To my mind, Paul’s story is staunch conservative, who holds views outside the mainstream, but doesn’t let that stop him. This ad plays along with that story, reinforcing what might be his strongest defining characteristic, that he’s true blue (or red), so to speak. He has principles where others lack it, he has conviction when others want to compromise.

I think this is a strong ad towards those ends. First of all, I love fake movie previews — even if this one is more of a MacGuffin, it works a the open.  It makes Paul appear strong and presidential without drifting into the crazy and dogmatic realm, that’s a tough balancing act. The shots at the ends are stills, yet they’re not static, they feel dynamic and powerful, he appears presidential, which is important to his candidacy — he can’t just be a wingnut, people have to see him as a potential president.

I think this ad also does a good job of raising the stakes on the debt limit, turning it into a battle between the forces of conviction and the forces of accommodation and appeasement — he turns compromise into an abdication of values. I really like the paper look they created, and I find it effective though I’m not sure why. This ad is a great example of the form of the ad (the stylistic elements, the music, the graphics) helping to drive the function (the message). Compare this ad to those early Pawlenty ads, they have a similar style, but in the Pawlenty ads it was all about style, there was no substance underneath.

Great opening ad that sets the frame for the Paul campaign.

On the other side of the coin is this ad from Michelle Bachmann. Bachmann’s story of course is similar to Paul’s except maybe throw in crazy.  I’m not as wild about this ad as the Paul ad, but I still think it might be an effective ad. This ad is short on style, but it’s function is clear, to counter the image of Bachmann as a raving lunatic unfit to be president. So, she talks very calmly if artificially about her record (a record that would appeal to Republican primary voters) and comes off as a little charming (hard to see the charm because her “performance” feels forced, but I’m giving her the benefit of the doubt) and somewhat boring.

I also question the opening shot, the time-lapse of Waterloo — not really compelling (maybe to folks in Waterloo), but later in the ad she has those nice archival pictures, why not throw some in of her own childhood?

I would also wonder if Bachmann can continue to run away from her narrative. While this ad does cast her as “serious” I wonder she can continue along this path, even as she bumps into her story — it just doesn’t feel authentic. Compare it to the Paul ad where he weaves what we know or might think about him into his message, and turns what might be a weakness into a strength. You can try to change your story, but it’s not easy, and you have to maintain the consistency so people really believe what you’re telling them.

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