Posts Tagged ‘attrition warfare’

How does David beat Goliath?

May 23, 2013

Barbara Buono has an uphill battle, convincing New Jersey voters that popular Governor Chris Christie hasn’t done as good a job as people think. While Christie’s been up for a while Buono is spening $1m in the New York market (which isn’t that much in that market) with this ad.

The ad is professional, but it’s really not compelling. It picks up a little steam when :20 in when they show the picture of her dad with the sausage, but they don’t have the time or inclination to dwell there, rather they throw out hackneyed platitudes about pulling yourself up.

Here’s the thing … you’re trying to convince people of something they don’t believe, fine that’s the purpose of advertising –if people agreed with you, would you need to advertise? But when you’re facing Goliath, David is foolish to fight toe to toe. I sometimes talk about attrition warfare here, and that’s the strategy Buono is taking.

I’m getting a litte far afield from the ad istelf, but if the goal if this ad is to convince people that Christie has done a bad job, why would it? It’s a political he said/she said, Christie starts with the high ground, he has more resources, and Buono is charging her army in a frontal assualt.

What should she do? Maneuver, don’t fight him straight on, fight asymmetrically, hit Christie on an issue they don’t see coming or one that goes to the heart of his credibility. Throwing three charges against him is akin to saying nothing, it becomes political blah, blah, blah.   Maybe that issue doesn’t exist, then find something that people can hook into, something that resonates, something that’s emotional not rational (and especially not rational when people already disagree with you).

An ad like this works only if you have favorable terrain and equal or better resources.

It’s a safe ad, but when you’re fighting Goliath, playing it safe only plays to his game not yours.

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The final push

October 25, 2010

We’re entering that time when campaigns make that final push to the finish line.  One week left, what message do you want to leave with voters before they head into the voting booth (do folks still vote in booths).  Something positive about you? A vision for the future? The cost of electing the other guy?  In races where the margins are too large to make up, do you try to push your name id for the next campaign? These are tough choices to make, as the field of possibilities narrows to one last message, one last opportunity to make your case.

Meg Whitman goes with the honesty approach, a one minute plea, that is part humble admission that folks might not like here, part bio, part political platitude, part vision statement.  I have to say I find this ad compelling, in the same way (even as a Democrat) I’ve found Whitman compelling.  There’s an iconic part of her story, the family moving west, making her fortune at ebay, that speaks to me, and makes me like her.  I like the admission at the open that voters see this election as an unhappy choice, I appreciate her naming that elephant in the room, and trying to turn it around.  While I find the middle  section not as compelling (I’m not a politician), overall I like this ad, it is a simple expression of her and her candidacy.

Compare that with Harry Reid’s last message to voters, which I find kind of all over the place.  This ad feels like it’s trying to do too much.  Where the Whitman ad is all about an emotional appeal, this ad feels like its trying to get voters to vote in their own self interest, which frankly rarely works.  In some ways it’s a fitting end to the Reid campaign which has always been about brute force and attrition tactics. There’s nothing subtle about this ad, but I don’t know if there’s anything exceptional about it either.  At the end of the day, it leaves me cold, neither likely Angle any less nor liking Reid any more.

A tale of two negative ads

October 14, 2010

I love the design of this ad.  It’s really well executed, down to the thought bubbles on Mark Schauer and China.  The issues in this ad are packaged well, so it’s not the specifics that hit home, but rather the thought “What were you thinking….” That’s a smart attack and the execution helps drive it home. Too often we get caught up in trying to hit each issue point rather than the message or conclusion the issues are supposed to be driving home. We forgot about winning the war, and focus on the battle.  This ad is one of my favorites this year.

Compare it to this ad against Sharon Angle from Harry Reid. It feels like a bunch of individual items thrown together into an ad. There’s no design, no frame except at the end of the ad.  Unlike the NRCC in the ad above Reid actually has issues to hit Angle on, but the result of the attack is less than the sum of their parts because it feels like their is no coordination — between the issues themselves, nor between the voice and the visuals or the design.

Which of these ads is more effective? Well, you run enough money behind the Reid ad, and it’ll get through, eventually. But the Reid ad is exactly why people hate political ads. It’s hitting them over the head because it has to, it’s attrition warfare defined.  The NRCC ad is clever, it engages, it frames, it breaks through much easier in my opinion, it sticks, it an example of maneuver warfare.

Given the choice, it’s better to go around your enemy than through them.

Plain Vanilla

August 10, 2010

First ad up for Rep Charlie Melancon. The ad doesn’t do much for me, pretty vanilla. I get the message of it, which I think is fine, but not really impressed with him. The delivery is fine, but the ad seems transactional. It’s missing any emotional component that connects me to Melancon.

The ad leaves me cold or at the very least, leaves me feeling nothing, which is a problem in my book. The background and suit and tie aren’t helping him either, feels very formal.

It seems they were aiming for voters heads not their hearts, and even if they hit their mark they missed the target.

It’s hammer time

August 5, 2010

This is a hammer spot, cause it’s about as subtle as a hammer.

Straightforward, not overdone, but it’ll take some repetition for it to sink in, and eventually it make with enough money behind it. It’s what I’ve called before attrition warfare, just line the armies up and go at it. Pretty typical for political attack ads. Also pretty cheap to produce.

Still I don’t think it has the impact per airing that this ad (which I reviewed previously) has:

What if they had just listed the amounts without voice over, then cut the quote of him saying he couldn’t recall, then the votes. I think they were trying to tease out the beginning of the spot, to get the viewer curious, but I just don’t think it works.

A hammer’s not subtle, but often times in politics it’s not death by 1000 cuts, it’s death by 1000 hammer blows. I just wonder if there’s not a better way.

And we’re off

July 27, 2010

That was fast, they probably had these ads ready and waiting. Instead of responding to the Meek attacks with a defense (and really what would the defense be, I didn’t make that much money when I ruined the economy), Greene goes on the attack.

While neither ad really grabs me, I think they do enough to muddy the waters.  Meek comes off as a corrupt politician.  Now, I think if Meek’s original attack had landed, he wins this round. It’s a good lesson, just because you throw a punch doesn’t mean you’re going to hit someone.   The problem for Meeks is that Greene’s checkbook is unlimited, if he goes toe to toe with him, he’s going to lose.

The Greene ads are good enough, well produced, but not really standout.

Because this round is a draw, it’s really a win for Greene.

Imagination, Obama, and Hope

July 1, 2009

Did Obama win because of his ads?

His campaign just won a Titanium & Integrated award at the prestigious Cannes International Advertising Festival. The Obama campaign did almost everything right. It was maybe the best one I’ll ever witness. But, the ads? Eh…

Ad Age’s ad review columnist Bob Garfield writes in his Cannes round-up about the Obama award, “…the messaging was as creatively barren as it was tactically brilliant. There was no “Morning in America” in this campaign. No “Daisy.” No any single thing that stood out. Cannes has just awarded two Grand Prix to a back office. It’s like giving the best-picture Oscar to the turn-off-your-cellphones announcement.”

Garfield asks, “Shouldn’t recognition go to those who exhibit startling ingenuity in messaging — not technological ingenuity in dispersing the message, but imagination in the message and medium themselves?”

Look, the ads were adequate, but there was nothing about them that stood out. There was nothing imaginative or creative about them. Obama won despite his mediocre ads, not because of it. Most campaigns can’t do that.

Ads are less important for a presidential campaign — no other race gets even close to the same level of exposure. Most campaigns need creative, message-driven ads to break through and create that same inspiration. Political ads that offer “imagination in the message and the medium” can act as creative leverage — gaining attention that far outweighs the amount of time they air. (Think of the Daisy ad; for all its fame, it only aired once.) When they win voters’ hearts, campaigns win voters’ minds, and candidates win elections.

Maybe this is a bigger issue than I have time for, but I would even argue that part of the reason people are fed up with politics is the lack of imagination in political messaging. Obama captured something, a feeling — of hope, of change. It was a different campaign, even if the ads didn’t necessarily express that difference; people responded anyway.

In an election, you can always overwhelm your opponent with more money, a solid message and numbing repetition, but wouldn’t it be better — better for politicians, better for campaigns, better for voters, to have a great message and outsmart your opponent with imaginatively delivered content? Not only is that more cost-effective, but it might even change how people feel about their elected leaders.

[My Note: Just saw this intro video for David Plouffe at Cannes, now this is interesting, wish the actual ads had looked like this:

Is Cool Enough?

June 30, 2009

These aren’t political ads, but I think there’s a lesson to be learned here.

Take a look at this Cannes award-winning ad (for fairness’ sake, I linked to the actual website where it ran rather than youtube). Now look at this ad, which was considered, but didn’t ultimately win (it’s about condoms, but don’t worry it’s work safe).

Which one better communicates the story of the product? The first one “Carousel” sure is neat and compelling (what’s going on?), and I wonder how they made it, but I don’t know if it makes me want to buy that TV. The story is interesting, but it’s random and doesn’t really connect to any core message. In my mind this video is cool, but ultimately ineffective. It offers a sugar-coating with no nutrition.

[Ok, I showed this video to my partner, Dan, and he made the point that he might not buy that tv, but it made him think that Phillips was cool, hip & cutting-edge, so there’s something more than sugar-coating. Still, putting nuts in your candy doesn’t make it nutritious.]

The second ad, the condom one, is clever, it tells a story and it intrigues me.  But more importantly, a condom ad told through a love story makes sense; I’ll actually remember it next time I’m shopping in Japan for condoms. It’s compelling (what is that counter?), but it connects to the product, too. In the world of advertising, that counts for more than simply “cool”.

(Digressing for a moment, both videos do a great job of showing a story with visuals only, no words.)

What’s my point? Not sure, maybe it’s this: creativity imaginatively delivered with no message is just as much of a problem as a message delivered with numbing repetition, but no imagination or creativity . Either may end up with a “win” (a campaign, an award) but don’t be fooled; neither should be considered effective advertising.

Library Day

June 12, 2009

Maybe Library Day will become a weekly feature.

Oh, what is Library Day?  Well, it’s the day when I recommend a book I think is interesting or helpful in creating great political advertising.

The first book I’m going to recommend is, “Hey Whipple Squeeze This.”

There are a lot of books that litter the bookshelf closest to where I work.  Those are the special books, the books that regardless of topics, I go back to again and again. Sometimes a books come and go off the shelf depending on what I’m interested in at the time, but there are a core that stay right there: “Hey Whipple” is one of those books. (For those of you paying attention, I’ve already quoted from it at least twice on this blog.)

Its subtitled “A Guide to Creating Great Ads,” and that’s exactly what it is.  Filled with observations, tips, stories and examples, it really is the one book on advertising that anyone interested in the craft should read.    What I really like is that Sullivan writes in an engaging tone, and he offers advice that gives you a good theoretical grounding (“Rule #1 in producing a great TV commercial. First you must write one”) while also being eminently practical (“Write sparely,” which is particularly good advice to political ad makers who tend to cram as much copy into “30” second spots as they can; you’ve never seen a grown man cry till you try to get a voice talent read 36 seconds of copy in 30).

The book breaks down advertising into print, TV and radio, then ends with some trouble shooting stories and advice (“Peck to death by ducks”).

And the title? It refers to the Charmin ads which dominated the 70’s.  For those of you too young to remember, Mr Whipple was the cranky grocery store clerk who admonished buyers, “Please don’t squeeze the Charmin,” while himself fighting his own squeezing demons.  Mr. Whipple had the distinction of being both the most remembered character on tv and the most reviled.  Sullivan points to the campaign as a cautionary tale of overwhelming the airwaves with ads that aren’t very good can produce results, but, well I’ll let him speak for himself, “What troubles me about Whipple is that he isn’t good. As an idea, Whipple isn’t good….To those who defend the campaign based on sales, I ask would you also spit on the table to get my attention? ”

Ultimately the book is a call to smart,  elegant, and creative advertising because spitting on the table demeans not only those doing the spitting (the consultants or ad execs) but those who they’re spitting for (the business or candidates).  Even if you win, you don’t win.

For that message alone, the book is a perfect choice for my first library day.

I wish I said it first

June 5, 2009

“A new advertising agency for companies that would rather outsmart the competition then outspend them.”

Fallon McElligott Rice Ad Headline, 1981


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