Archive for March, 2012

Four for Friday: The Subtle and the petty

March 30, 2012

Been traveling this week for work, so it’s been tough to post. Today is a hodgepodge of ads, I came across this week.

First up Chrysler’s followup to “Halftime in America”:

I thought the ad did a great job of re-framing the halftime in America message that started with Clint Eastwood at the Super Bowl. If that ad was a 50,000 ft view, this one is closer to ground level. It tells the story, without telling the story, if you know what I mean. I just read this list of writing tips from the great screenwriter Billy Wilder. The two rules that seem to apply here are:

5. The more subtle and elegant you are in hiding your plot points, the better you are as a writer.


7. A tip from Lubitsch: Let the audience add up two plus two. They’ll love you forever.

This ad is very subtle, it never reveals the subtext, and I think it’s better for it.

The next ad up was sent to me by a friend:

I like the tone of the ad, and I think it does a nifty job of making it’s political points without sounding (or looking) too political. The ad is well shot too, with lots of pretty pictures. It makes something that could have been dry interesting, so it scores points there too.

My only objection to the ad, is the whole “Your friend Ben” theme.  Maybe it’s how folks already see Cardin, but it feels a little forced. I guess it’s better than a more traditional, “that’s because Ben Cardin cares…” or “Ben Cardin is on our side…” line, but not sure I buy it, in an ad that I generally buy.

Alright, ad number three comes from the Republicans:

Don’t love this ad/video for a number of reasons:

1. Not sure how folks will feel about using audio from the Supreme Court. Usually the Supreme court is above politics, pulling in Lawyer’s arguments seems debasing somehow, but maybe that’s just me.

2. The quote feels lacking context. So, the lawyer had a brain fart, but does that make healthcare a tough sell? Not sure I get the connection? Maybe if we heard a question asking him to describe what the health care law does or some other reference, but right now it just seems like a guy who lost his train of thought.

3. Who cares? I mean, yes we ought to care about health care, but what I mean is, hitting Obama for health care now seems like hitting Clinton for having affairs, haven’t we played this out already?

Maybe as an ad that gets the base angry this works.  The fact that it only had 400 hits on youtube (and I’ve watched it twice), makes me think it’s pretty ineffective.

Finally, an ad that’s about as simple a repines as they come. In one of those petty (and dumb) political moves, opponents of Jose Hernandez are asking a judge to stop him from describing himself as an Astronaut. 

Hernandez answers quite eloquently in this one minute long video:

Is there a more clear example of show don’t tell? This response is a also a great example of political aikido. Whatever a judge decides, the fact that opponents are arguing he’s not an astronaut, this video response will cement the fact that he did indeed fly in space. At once a response like this makes the opponents seem small minded and Jose Hernandez never has to break message to do it, that sounds like a win in my book.

You can’t handle the truth.

March 20, 2012

This is a bit of an unusual post.  Usually I reference an ad, but today, I’m going off book.  Don’t know if you have been following what happened with “This American Life” and Mike Daisey.  Essentially “This American Life” ran an episode on working conditions in Apple’s Chinese factories based on Mike Daisey’s monologue.  Mike Daisey’s monologue is a first hand account of his experiences meeting and talking with workers at Foxcomm. I didn’t hear the original story, but it was the most downloaded episode of “This American Life” and sounded like a powerful piece of storytelling.

Only problem, turns out after some digging by other NPR reporters, many of the stories Mike Daisey tells didn’t happen.

This probably breaks some blog protocol, but take a listen to “This American Life” show “Retraction.” It’s a powerful episode and instructive lesson in truth telling, accountability and transparency.

Ok, you back (hopefully)?  Truth is such a funny thing.  Are the ads we produce truthful?  Are the facts true? These are questions political advertisers face every day. What the best attack? How far can we push it? Is it true? Personally, I take the truthfulness of the ads I create very seriously.

This story is a great example of why we owe it not just to the public, but to our clients to be careful with the truth.  Mike Daisey wanted to tell a story that resonated with his audience.  But if he claims the story is true and it’s not, then the audience feels betrayed. My biggest worry about stretching the truth, especially when it comes to ads about our opponents, is that the pubic throws the baby out with the bath water. Meaning, they dismiss the entire story for one or two small lies that might make for a cleaner narrative or make something a little worse than it was or more meaningful.

That’s what Mike Daisey did here, and now he’s done a disservice to his cause.  Where is the truth in his story? Is any of it true?  I sat here trying to figure out what was true and what wasn’t, and even I wasn’t sure at the end of it all.  It makes you doubt the entire narrative he paints.  And what about the next story on China factory workers, will people take that with a grain of salt because of this one?  Probably.

What Mike Daisey did was confuse truth with verisimilitude.  Truth is pretty hard and fast, but verisimilitude is not quite in that realm, its something softer,is the essence of truth, it feels real.  Something can feel real without being true and conversely something can cling to true facts and be a lie.

There’s probably a lot of verisimilitude in Mike Daisey’s worthy story, but by not being honest about the truth, he has compromised trust with his audience.  So, they believe nothing he has to say.  It’s a cautionary tale for all of us.

P.S. “This American Life” is to be commended on how they handled the situation. If you’re gonna make a mistake, this is the way to clean it up. Basically, come clean, be transparent, accept responsibility. A good example to remember when things go bad.

Real Magic

March 12, 2012

When I was in college, I quickly realized something about the class I took.  My best classes, the ones I was most interested in, the ones that I worked the hardest in, the ones, I remember today, weren’t always the most interesting topics. Sure some of them were right in my interest wheel house, but many of them were subjects I never really cared much about then or since.  Conversely, the worst classes were often in topics I was sure I’d love.  What separated the bad from the good, the boring from the interesting was the quality of the teacher.

The best teachers made subjects (like English History 1600-1658) fascinating and relevant.

I bring that up in the context of this new ad from Jessie Jackson Jr.

On the face of it, it should be compelling, it should be heartbreaking, it should move me to outrage…, but it doesn’t. The spot is flat emotionally. Now, I know a mom telling the story of her son gunned down on the way to choir practice is inherently powerful, but it’s not. That first line “I’m Pam Bosley, my son is dead…” should grab you and make you sick, but it doesn’t.

I’m not blaming the mom, who has obviously gone through a tragedy no parent should ever have to face.  It takes courage to get on camera and speak about it.  I blame the consultant.  It appears that she’s reading a teleprompter, repeating words from rote rather than telling her own tragic tale.  Then to make matters worse, they have her spouting political blah, blah, blah about there opponent (the highlight of the ad is actually the phone of Debbie Haverston behind Jesse Jackson with that awful expression on her face).

I saw a quote from a screenwriter that said if the answer is 4, write 2+2.  Unfortunately the script here gives us 4.  There’s no room for the audience in this ad either emotionally or intellectually. Instead of bringing us into the story they hold us at arm’s length.

“A million deaths is a statistic. One death is a tragedy.”

By the time she says, don’t let my son die in vain, we should be heartbroken…. I read a great line about Jeremy Lin, the Knicks point guard, who came from no where to dazzle the NBA — a reporter said the true story of Jeremy Lin was “about how in a society full of nonsense and noise, of fizz and vapour, of pretty colours and manufactured products, we ache for real magic.”

This ad has the potential for real magic but instead they gave us more nonsense and noise.



What more do you want?

March 1, 2012

If you follow my twitter feed, I mentioned how much I loved this ad. I was going to leave it at that, but a friend of mine has been encouraging me to blog more (guess they don’t follow Twitter), so here goes:

I loved this ad.  First of all it’s a great execution of a good concept. The production values are top notch, but more than that, they really trust the concept, going all the way, and allowing the concept to speak for the brand.  They show the values of the Guardian rather than have a narrator who tells you, “The Guardian, the whole picture — our voice and yours…” or some other bullet point.

The details are nicely done as well from the copy (the police raid yelling “little pig, little pig let us in”) to the way they inter-weave the story between web, headlines, user commentary, to the graphics — seriously this is top notch stuff.

Also, its both telling a compelling story, but maybe more importantly a familiar story with a twist. Using the three little pigs is a clever way to spiral out a story we’ve all seen before — the crime, the commentary, the reaction and counter-reaction, the eventual fallout to larger issues.


Show don’t tell.

Great execution.

What more do you want from an ad?

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