Archive for January, 2012

Fair or Foul?

January 30, 2012

Romney is coming out swinging against Gingrich with a new ad attacking him for ethics violations.

It’s a pretty hard hitting ad, reminding voters that Newt has a past and not a pretty one. It also goes to Newt’s principles and values, framing him as a hypocrite.  It’s an effective charge because it comes not from the campaign itself, but it comes from a third party, a trusted unbiased source.

This approach has stirred some controversy as NBC and Tom Brokaw have objected to the use of use footage in the ad. It’s not the first time this type of issue has come up, and I have to say it seems disingenuous of NBC to object to the ad.  Look, Brokaw said it, he said it to make a point, to get ratings, to report the news, whatever the reason, it a part of the public record, and I think it’s entirely fair for Romney to use it in an ad. It’s one thing if it’s not true or if they edited it to make it appear that Brokaw was saying something other than what he actually said on the air. But that’s not the case here.

For NBC  or Brokaw to cry about it now is sanctimonious bull. Brokaw claims this use compromises his role as a journalist, how is that exactly? Did he not mean what he said? Or does he regret saying it?   There’s no implication that NBC or Brokaw endorsed the campaign (and it’s not like news organizations don’t endorse candidates anyway) or in anyway said it other than to report the news.  In fact by using the motif of the tv screen (a common element of the negative ad genre) it makes it pretty clear this is a political ad — the Romney campaign didn’t need to present the news report like this, but doing so, is really going out of their way to make this look like an ad rather than try to fool the viewer into thinking this is an actual “unbiased” news report they’re watching.

If Brokaw or NBC believe this is mudslinging then why did they report it this way initially? It’s factual and effective precisely because they present the clip unedited and without commentary.

It’s the type of ad where the execution stays out of the way of the message, and while it’s not breaking new ground, my best guess is that it’ll be pretty effective at reminding people what they don’t like about Newt.

 

Who’s the Hero?

January 25, 2012

I came across this ad on twitter via @geekforever. (Disclaimer, my wife works at Save the Children and mentioned the DC/Save collaboration previously, but she didn’t show me any examples of the ad work:

A Collaboration between DC Comics and Save the Children

Here’s a link to the obviously good cause  (I might buy one of the shirts or iPhone case).

As a comic book fan, I was really blown away by the artwork, it’s beautiful and striking.

As a person who makes ads, I wondered, this is beautiful art, but it is a great ad?  Yes, it is attention getting which is important, it stands out, especially to someone familiar with the characters. That’s important, and I think it works well enough here that the audience will want to pause long enough to engage the ad and learn more about the message.

But I can’t help but feel it also is off-message. I couldn’t put my finger on it at first, but as I thought about it, I realized the focus here is on the heroes, not on you — the audience member turned hero.

So while the ad is beautiful and awesome does it reinforce the emotions and feelings that DC/Save want? Does it make the audience member feel like a hero, feel like someone who can save a life? I don’t think so.

I read somewhere “design without a message is art, design with message is an ad.

So the ad gets the right kind of attention (interest), but it doesn’t impute* it’s message and emotional content, and in that sense, it’s great art, but only an ok ad.

Addendum:

Thinking some more about the ad as I walked…. The problem really isn’t the art, but the headline. “We can be Heroes.” Of course the Justice League can be heroes, the point is “you” can be a hero.  It’s not about joining the Justice League (the heroes in the artwork), but about you helping when they can’t. So if it was the same artwork, but a headline like: “They can’t be heroes, but you can…” or “Be a real Hero…” or “You don’t need a costume to be a hero” then that reframes the message and the focus of the ad.

[*Impute: My new favorite word —  I picked up reading the Steve Jobs biography, which is pretty inspiring if you ask me. Basically a product or ad should impute to it’s audience it’s message — essentially it’s story and qualities should be obvious on an intuitive level, by the presentation. At least, that’s how I took it.]

Be afraid… be very afraid.

January 23, 2012

I caught this ad yesterday by chance. At first I was intrigued, I thought the concept seemed neat and execution was well done.

That was of course till I got to the end….

You could cue the foghorn sound in my head. Come on now.

Maybe they polled this message before running it, but it seems incredibly tone deaf and off-emotion:

“American creativity and innovation are under attack” (by who China) and “Foreign criminals” (who, terrorists, chinese hackers).  No! the threat is people downloading movies and music illegally, what wait?

It’s big build up for such a… petty payoff. It feels way disingenuous, like a group of big executives came together and schemed, let’s make it about America and American ingenuity, yeah, that’s the ticket.  We’ll scare people into supporting SOPA, they don’t need to understand it (because if they did they’d probably be against it),  they’re easy marks.

Now I’m worked up.

This ad is insulting actually, it’s premise is that you can just scare folks into agreeing with you. To be honest it pisses me off, it’s the worst kind of cynical advertising, and despite the nifty graphics and cool execution it’s garbage.

Whatever the reasoning even if there is a more innocent rationale for the ad, I think it’ll be incredibly ineffective. I just can’t see this ad getting people worked up, it won’t resonate because it so obviously trying to make a mountain out of mole-hill, why should anyone care? Because of “foreign criminals”? Do they really want me to believe that the greatest threat to American innovation is online piracy? How about our industrial age model school systems, maybe we ought to start, huh.

Think of the same basic message, but maybe you have a below the line worker, a grip or gaffer talking about how piracy costs them money out of their pocket (I’ve had that argument made to me before by a gaffer).  That kind of personal connection might work, because it helps to make this big issue of piracy (who’s it really hurting, big movie studios) into something personal (it’s hurting regular guys and gals like Joe Gaffer).

But unless you have Michael Bay up there talking about how he’s leaving the movie business because he can’t make money anymore because of internet piracy…. Ok, even then it probably wouldn’t be believable.

All this hyperbole over online piracy, just misses the mark, either people don’t see it as stealing or if they do, they see themselves as Robin Hoods, fighting the good fight against big corporations. My guess is that the best argument to make is to make it personal (show the victim) or reframe piracy as stealing (which they do in those movie previews) and appeal to people’s better angels.  But this ad makes it all seem like an epic moral struggle of good v. evil, and it’s just not that in most people’s minds, sorry.

The only good news about this ad is the fact that it’s so bad, it’s a good bet that no one will want to illegally download it.

 

Hail to the chief

January 20, 2012

The president is up with his first ad.

When my wife forwarded me this ad, she added the comment that it seemed odd for a first ad.  Watching it, I have to agree.  You expect the first ad of the President to be bigger, more grand, more sweeping. Instead this ad is a small response ad on energy independence (not exactly a burning issue these days) — it feels more procedural rather than grand, more tactical than strategic.

Stepping back, I tried to think through the strategy behind leading with this ad.  My best guess is that this ad is setting up the message and themes of the campaign. Much in the same why a pitcher might setup his fastball by first throwing a change-up, I believe this ad is intended to prime the electorate.

1) The ad frames the race as Obama v. Billionaires. 

With super-pac spending out of control in the Republican primary, this ad is a shot across the bow, that Obama isn’t going to take it lying down. It also frames the race for the electorate, who are you going to believe Obama or secretive oil billionaires who are “not tethered to the facts”?

It also dovetails nicely with the theme that Obama is on the side of the middle class, while Romney has secretive oil billionaires on his side.  Who’s side do you want to be on in that fight?

2) Show that Obama is not just another politician.

It’s not about ethic or energy independence per se, those are macguffins for the real message: That he’s honest and he’s accomplished things other than health care and fighting over  budgets.

3) He already is seen as flash, this ad shows some substance.

We’ve seen Obama talking eloquently to huge crowds, we’ve felt the passion and flash. This ad is about the substance, the hard work of governing.

This ad stands as a good example of the kind of trench level ad that’s part of a larger ad campaign. It frames the story for independent voters, and injects itself into the narrative (responding to attacks against the president). On it’s own it’s pretty humdrum (and it feels like they cram one line too many into it), but as part of a larger more long term campaign it starts to make sense.

Form follows Emotion

January 10, 2012

I’m reading the Steve Jobs biography, and I came across this quote from his first designer, Hartmut Esslinger:

“Form follows emotion.”

The statement resonates with me particularly because I’m such a fan of form integrating with function, but of course in advertising function basically boils down to emotion.  The form should be connected intimately to the emotional frequency of the brand and message you’re trying to drive.

That leads me to a discussion of this ad:

This ad is surprisingly simple in form, but that simplicity is a strength in this case adding a verisimilitude to Huntsman.Using the debate clips without commentary is powerful, even the cutaways to Perry and Mitt looking flummoxed works and adds to the sense of reality.

Huntsman comes off as tough, honest, and eloquent. Talking about his kids in the navy serving a Democratic president is a nice touch.

While patriotism is a good quality in an of itself, it also serves as a macguffin — what Huntsman is really saying is he’s the principled one in the race. The contrast is obviously with Mitt, where Mitt is calculating and rising money, Huntsman is principled and committed to his values, even serving for a Democratic president because it was his duty. He’s not playing politics he’s serving his country, what more could you want in a President?

I think this is a very good ad for Huntsman, contrasting his strengths against his opponent’s weaknesses. It’s presents his best on-emotion argument for voting for him, in an authentic execution, the real question for him is this enough to propel his campaign forward? And, do Republicans care?


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