Posts Tagged ‘aikido’

Let the message speak.

June 6, 2012

Obama is up with another attack on Mitt Romney.

I think this is a good ad and an even better attack. The ad itself is simply executed, but has some nice graphic touches (like the graph lines rising up in the columns of the Mass Capitol, the way they pull the quote from the editorial and the way they scroll the list of states to #47).  I think the simplicity shows a good touch with the material, letting it speak for itself.

In lieu of some alternative information, the attack seems pretty damning — Romney did a horrible job with the Massachusetts economy.  As the opening and closing quotes show, this goes to the heart of the rationale for voting for Romney — his record.  This strategy is a nice bit of political aikido turning your opponent’s strength and energy against them. That’s the real power of this ad, it succeeds at the strategic level because it calls into question the foundation of Romney’s experience and appeal.

That attack works because they stick to the “facts” using editorials and statistics without commenting too much on those objective descriptors of Romney’s performance. I’ve written before that sometimes an ad needs to just get out of it’s own way, and this is a good example of that.  The message is the thing here, if they had tried to do too much with it, they could risk losing that powerful message in the barrage of the messenger.

I love the smell of desperation in the morning….

April 6, 2012

Sometimes it’s hard to write about bad ads, sometimes it just makes me angry ,or makes me feel like I’m repeating myself. But sometimes an ad is so bad and cliche, well it just tickles me:

In what has got to be seen as one of the worst campaigns of the year so far, Dick Lugar comes up with one of hte most cliche and desperate ads of the year. Lugar you may know has taken heat for basically living in DC for 36 years while representing the state of Indiana.That probably wouldn’t be so bad, but it only reinforces a growing image among conservatives and votrs in general that Lugar is out of touch. So in this context a little political aikido would be perfect.

This ad feels less like Aikido and more like… Inspector Clouseau. First off all, I was confused, “Washington Outside Groups”? It’s a strange turn of phrase, usually we’re worried about inside groups, what they mean is groups from Washington, outside of Indiana, but the phrase is awkard enough that it wasn’t clear to me at first.

The next point that struck me as odd was the attack itself. Murdock is saying he’s going to get national money, I guess if you’re Dick Lugar and people think you’re not in touch with the state that might be an issue, but I wonder if it’s too inside baseball for most voters to really care. Inside baseball is a term we use from time to time, it means, focusing on the internal politics of a situation, how you make the sausage — the kind of stuff that political junkies love. But most voters really don’t care about inside politics, it feels, well, too political to them. They can be made to care if the inside baseball attack somehow resonates back to the story they already believe.

Finally let’s talk about cliche. The music the voice over are so over the top, it really feels like the “Mickey Mouse” politics it talks about in the ad. Cliche can be useful, but in this case it just weighs the ad down. It’s so overtly negative that it leaves the viewer no place to go, no room to put themselves into the ad emotionally.

So let’s see we got awkward phrasing of an inside baseball attack that presented in a very cliche execution… what’s that leave us with? Desperation. I read a study that said most casualties in combat don’t happen during the combat itself, but during the retreat. One side starts to retreat, and suddenly the retreat turns into a route. Desperation is a bit like that. This ad wants to present strength, but really it only represent’s Lugar’s weakness.

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.

And,

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.

Dueling ads – The Republican Presidential Primary

February 17, 2012

In sports there’s something called a challenge trade — when two teams trade underperforming players at the same position.  Romney and Santorum are engaged in something of a challenge air war.  Romney err, Restore our Future is up attacking Santorum, trying to undermine Santorum’s conservative street cred.

The ad is pretty mediocre, basically a message delivery device without much creativity. But the point is to try and muddy the waters and subvert Santorum’s message that he’s the real conservative — would the “right” choice really vote <gasp> to raise the debt limit? If Romney’s not a man of the people, then neither is Santorum the “Ultimate washington insider.” If I was grading the ad, I would probably say it’s about a C or C+ if I was feeling generous. There’s nothing really wrong about it,but there’s nothing compelling or interesting.  Actually not sure why they include the Romney stuff, it’s not really catchy

Santorum on the other hand is running a pretty interesting ad with an interesting strategy behind it. It’s a gimmick ad, but the gimmick works because it reinforces the message. “Rombo” is on the lose shooting mud at Santorum.  It’s actually a pretty clever concept, and they certainly go all the way with it, down to an actor who looks like Romney.  I like the concept the execution is good, but not great, but I think the strategy behind it is just as clever.

Rombo also is subtlety subversive — Romney isn’t the tough conservative he plays on TV (Rambo), but some kind of phony “Rombo” shooting a mud in a white shirt and tie. It’s a slight jab, but  the subtext might be more effective at capturing the anti-Romney malaise that Republican primary voters are feeling than the text.

Santorum can’t compete with Romney’s cash advantage (I saw it as at least 3:1). This ad is trying to functionally dislocate Romney’s advantage — it’s not an unusual strategy, but well played in this case. The hope is to remind voters of Romney’s negatives every time you see a Romney ad attacking Santorum. While, I’m not a fan of the ultimatum approach at the end, I still think given the execution of the ad it could be effective in helping to blunt Romney’s advantage.

By wrapping the message around such an entertaining and off-beat concept, Santorum might be able to poison Romney’s negative ads.

The easy winner this round is Santorum.  The only question is can Santorum continue to move and out flank Romney.

Super Bowl Ads… The Negative

February 7, 2012

Yesterday, I went through ads I like from the Super Bowl, today, I wanted to look at some ads I thought flopped as well a continuing trend, consumer brands going negative (see what I did there, there’s negative like bad, and negative like attack)….

I don’t get it. Met Life cartoon characters, what? Other than getting some attention, there was no connection between the form and the function. What the point? This was weak creative and probably pretty expensive to get the rights to Hanna-Barbara’s characters, so why? Because they could? To try and link to some nostalgia of my generation? Again, if you’re going to do it, then do it, why not show the scooby gang facing retirement, or Richie Rich or Grape Ape, but this was just kinda weak.

(As an aside, there’s a bunch of ads that I thought really sucked beyond my need to discuss, like the  sexist”Teleflora” ad where the woman basically says if you buy your girl something for Valentine’s day, you’ll get some action…. alright.)

Here’s an ad that ran only in Michigan, that stirred up some controversy:

The ad was created by Republican ad guru Fred Davis. I’ve appreciated Davis’ flare and talent here in the past, as well as his desire to make ads stand out, and not be ordinary. But again, I feel he missed the mark here.

I just read this great article in Slate on the demise of Crispin, Porter, Bogusky (a must read). The quote this line from the Crispin employee handbook “that defines advertising as ‘anything that makes our clients famous.'” I think Davis has a similar take on his ads (and he might agree with the Bogusky quote later in the article, “My relationship with advertising was that I was not that fond of it,” he told Canada’s Globe and Mail earlier this year. “So mostly the way I approached it was to kind of mess with the form. “). Any ad that gets his client attention is a good ad, and his ads are very good about getting attention.

Here’s the thing, attention is not the same as being on-message and being on-message is not the same as being on-emotion. This ad gets Pete Hoesktra attention, it’ll get a news cycle or more of talk, but does it move Hoeskstra’s message forward, does it connect with voters any more than the creepy King character connected with consumers?  It sometimes appears that Davis (like Bogusky) holds his medium in contempt, so he toys with it, plays with the viewer, and tries to get his client as much attention as possible — because any attention is good attention… right?

Beyond the offensive chinese stereotype, this ad feels emotionally tone deaf, the “Debbie Spend It Now” line feels forced, there might be a good message here about spending and China holding our debt, but this one is such a mess that it faces the prospect of missing the beat because of all the noise.

Beyond that, here’s are a couple consumer brand on consumer brand crime:

The Chevy ad caused quite a stir as Ford tried to get NBC to not run the ad. I appreciated more than loved this ad. Chevy’s commitment to it’s concept, from the music to the Twinkies,  was well thought out, and they didn’t break the reality they had created except for the line that seemed like it came right out of the Chevy Brochure, “Ford’s not the most durable… blah, blah, blah.” It would have been enough to say Dave didn’t make it, he drove a Ford, and leave it at that, it makes the point.  Still I thought it was clever, and loved the subtly of the jab in an ad filled with excess (in a good way).

The Samsung ad wasn’t the first of it’s kind (it’s run similar ads before), and I think they’re well done. They seem to know their target well — some one hip and cool, too hip and cool to be an Apple Lemming (notice the re-framing of Apple fandom from “think different” to one of the crowd of mindless followers), but someone who wants the latest tech which Samsung happens to offer. Not sure about the “stylus” — which felt like an odd feature (poll driven maybe) to highlight, if you want a stylus, I can did up my old Palm Treo out of my kids toys, still this ad was pretty good, though the big party at the end felt like an unneeded add on, it was something out of a beer commercial.

Still it the ad is nice framing by Samsung, they aren’t trying to beat Apple per se, but position themselves as the alternative to Apple. There’s an aikido like strategy at work here that I appreciate.

It’s the story stupid…

February 7, 2011

Super bowl ads. Everyone’s talking about ’em. On twitter, I linked to this article, “Super Bowl TV Spots (Versus All The Rest of the Year).” The gist was basically, yeah Super Bowl ads have a larger audience, but the quality of our work shouldn’t depend on the audience that’s going to see it. It’s summed up with, “Just seems to me that a TV spot is a TV spot. TV, radio, any media buy is a public appearance for which we ought to put on our Sunday best, no matter how large our congregation is.”

Super Bowl ads are known for their spectacle, for their over the top quality, but the ads that I always seem to like are the same ones I like the rest of the year, it’s the ones that tell a story and connect with me emotionally.  Seriously which ads to do you remember over the years?

Ad Age just did an all-time Super Bowl ad poll, it came down to Apple’s 1984 spot and Coke’s Mean Joe Greene ad, according the reader’s poll Mean Joe Greene crushed Apple’s ad.

(Here’s a link to all the ads polled: My favorites NFL “Crazy” & Reebok “Terry Tate, Office Linebacker,” Monster, “When I grow up,” and EDS “Herding Cats”– though it’s a little too much of a gimmick, I find it amusing).

I’ve never understood the appeal of the 1984 ad, though of the spectacle ads it does have a compelling narrative and emotional element (the drive to break free from Big Brother). But the Mean Joe ad, come on? Just watching it now, I was almost in tears. “Hey kid, catch…”

That brings us to this year’s ads which has the usual blend of stupid beer ads that aren’t funny the other 364 days of the year, the offensive — Groupon, the unremarkable…, can’t remember any of those, and the spectacle — Coke & Audi, which were all right, but will probably fall into the unremarkable category before too long.

So which ads did I think were the best. To me one stood out:

I don’t know if this ad was targeted to parent’s but it sure felt real to me. Another company might have gone for over the top, might have tried to make it funnier by making it more absurd, and they would have lost the reality of the moment. Absurd is fine if it’s real, but when it becomes surreal, it needs some element to ground it back to reality.  This ad feels so true to life to me, and it’s so well executed, down to the music, the way the child rushes past his dad at the end, and the surprised reaction at the end.

Does an ad like this sell cars? I would say yes. It’s clever and honest, and somehow sympathetic, and I believe it makes VW seem clever, honest and sympathetic. They could have shown the car racing around corners, but that wouldn’t hook me the way this ad does. That’s the power of emotion.

Along those lines the other ad that caught my attention was the Eminem Chrysler ad. A paean to Detroit (and America frankly), I think it’s a powerful ad, that appeals to that underdog spirit in all of us. I love the script, again eschewing talking about the car, the car is a symbol for something more powerful, and if you want to connect with that story, if you want that story to become your story, buying the car is a way of broadcasting that to the world.  I love the end tag, “Imported from Detroit,” simply brilliant.

Here’s my problem with it, do you need Eminem in it? Why not have him narrate the entire spot? The spot is great for 3/4 then it falls apart at the end. Why does he get out of the car? What’s the deal with choir?  It’s one of those commercials that had me, then loses me at the end. Don’t get me wrong it’s better than 90% of the car commercials out there because of the script and the music, but it ends up falling flat at the end.  Too bad.

I would be remiss if I didn’t talk about the negative ads of the night…. What, wait you missed them?

How about this one:

The ad is obvious swipe at Apple from the 1984 reference to the white ear buds. I find the interesting, but not credible. The ad is trying to turn Apple from the rebel fighting Big Brother into Big Brother. But ultimately I’m not sure that I believe the argument coming from Motorola. I’m not sure what people think of Motorola, but rebel isn’t really one of the first ten themes that come to my mind.  So ultimately while I like the message aikido going on here, I’m not sure it can be successful without some other validation.

The other spot that I recall going negative was this one:

A lot of spectacle, pretty funny and well executed, but ultimately it felt like they were too clever. Audi is trying to be luxury for those who don’t want luxury or something like that. That might be the right position for them, and this ad communicates it well, but there’s not emotional component to it other than the basic message. Compare this ad to the Chrysler ad or the VW ad, which one moves you more?

Still, it’s good to see brands going after each other at the Super Bowl, gets me excited for 2012.

Super Bowl ads remind me of big Hollywood blockbusters, full of sound and fury but ultimately as forgettable as Transformers or X-Men. The best blockbusters, like the best ads are the ones that focus the sound and fury in service of an emotion and a message. The best way to do that is to tell a story. The best ad this year was probably the least expensive to shoot, the same thing was true of my favorite ad from last year.  You can be simple and powerful if you focus on story and emotion instead of spectacle and being clever.

Final Push Wisconsin

October 25, 2010

Feingold takes his opponent’s signature ad and tries to turn the tables on him.  It’s a pretty attempt too, taking advantage of his opponent’s recent mis-steps to paid him as devoid of any real plans or ideas.  This ad is Feingold’s attempt at political aikido turning the race into a referendum on Johnson instead of himself.

I like the empty whiteboard, don’t know if you need the thing falling down at the end, and I wish they had figured out a better way to incorporate the newspapers quotes (which I think are essential validators in this case), right now they feel like they’re in the way of the concept which is so strong. In spite of those missteps, this is a good ad, that makes a compelling point.

All Fred Davis for Today

September 22, 2010

I tweeted this earlier today, but it’s worth repeating anyone interested in political advertising should read this article about GOP ad “guru” Fred Davis. In some ways Fred Davis embodies exactly the kind of creative, boundary pushing, emotional story telling ads that I advocate for on this blog. In other ways, I think his ads can fall into the gimmick category — using outrageous for the sake of getting attention, even if that attention is for the outrageousness of the ad rather than the message it is disseminating. In other words, his ads get more attention than they are effective (I’m thinking specifically of his Paris Hilton ad against Obama).

I also find him personally annoying, but that could be just the way he’s presented in the press (or the persona/story he presents to the press as the “creative” genius, maybe in person he’s very nice and interesting).  I do very much appreciate the way he’s unapologetic about his ideas and unafraid to make bold choices creatively (even if he should follow Boris’ advice to “check himself”). We need more people like that in political ad making.

My only other comment is how well he could perform on smaller budgets?  It’s great to make a provocative $40k viral video, but a lot of campaigns don’t have that kind of cash. Creativity isn’t dependent on money, but money sure helps when it comes to execution.

In honor of Fred Davis, here’s a couple of recent examples of his work:

A while back I looked at parodies of the “Daisy Ad,” and in general I found the parodies not compelling. This ad is a parody of the classic Reagan ad, “Morning in America”:

This ad measure up very well with the original. Striking the same tone to opposite effect. It uses the original as an anchor to twist the message, are you better off now than four years ago. In the original the answer was yes, in this ad the answer is a resounding no.

This ad for Carly Fiorina I was less impressed with:

Visually I found it uninspired, from a message point of view, I found it bewildering. You’re going to come after Boxer for being a millionaire while Californians are suffering? Um, that’s exactly what Boxer is attacking Fiorina for doing while she was at HP.  Now, I’m all for undercutting the opponent’s argument, political aikido and all, but I just don’t find Fiorina’s claim credible.  Or put another way, I find the attack on her time as CEO of HP more credible, while this attack on Boxer leaves me with a shrug.  Though I should say, I really do like the music…, I wonder how much it cost?

Part of the art of political advertising is knowing when to go for a homerun and when a single is all you need.

Validators

September 17, 2010

Validators can be powerful elements to a negative message. In the Rand Paul ad using his own words, I didn’t quite believe it, this one I do. The execution is alright, but I think the message is a killer.  Fiorina seems cold hearted and totally unconcerned with the plight of the folks she’s laid off. The “I’m proud of what I did at HP,” comes across as arrogant and out of touch.

Validators can appear more authentic, and they do something else as well: they often times, show instead of telling. Sure they punctuate the point here , “Outsourcing Jobs, out for herself,” but I wonder if the ad wouldn’t have been better off ending with her saying she was proud of what she did at HP, and some summary, 30,000 jobs outsourced etc.

Here’s another case of a validator. The ad has been pulled from youtube because Fox News has sued the Carnahan campaign over the use of Chris Wallace.

News sources are particularly good validators because of their “impartiality” works for them. In this case, Fox’s bias works for the Carnahan campaign, because the ad is 25 seconds of him skewering Roy Blunt. Now, the press hates getting thrown into the middle of political campaigns, but heck if you’re gonna say it, then you need to own it.

Again I’m not sure they need the “Worst of Washington,” end tag, I think they could have just have ended with, “are you the one…” But, I like that they just went for 25 seconds of Wallace instead of feeling the need to cut to some punctuation of the message (well, they held off on that till the end).

Both these ads are good examples of how to use validators effectively (even if the first isn’t entirely interesting).  They key to both of them is that they show and don’t tell, that they feel authentic. The difference between these and the Rand Paul ad, is that in the later it felt like they were trying to make him say something I’m not sure he was saying, it felt dishonest (is Rand Paul really against selling drugs for example), and that undercuts the power of the validator.

Ad Infinitum: Hard to believe

July 26, 2010

I think these quick ad checks are going to become more common as there are more ads out there, and my time to post becomes less and less.

Great ad in my opinion.  Hard to believe it’s only 30 seconds, it tells such a powerful story.  Nice visuals, good juxtaposition of the CG’s on the screen adding depth and the voices of the people. It’s a small thing, but a big pet peeve, but I hate it when the words on the screen match the voice over.  Here they complement each other, and the one time they match (over Foley’s line) works well — the exception that proves the rule.

This ad reminds me of the famous Ted Kennedy ad attacking Milt Romney in 1994.  It always great when you can turn your opponents strength into a weakness.


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