Posts Tagged ‘Authenticity’

The power of personality

January 13, 2014

A lot of catching up to do in the pre-Super Bowl quiet….

We’ll start today with this ad from a friend of mine. I usually try not to comment on videos when I know the folks involved, but this video is worth taking a few minutes out to watch.

What I appreciate about this video beside the clever presentations is that the personality of the candidate shines through. Now I’ve never met Daylin Leach, but I imagine he’s exactly like what I see here. The gimmicks in the video add to the authenticity of the final product presenting an image of an unrepentant liberal with boundless energy, someone who is serious but doesn’t take himself too seriously.

The other day, I was on a call and someone said, “Voters are looking for cues about a candidate.” I thought that was really insightful. Watch the video again — what cues do you get about Leach?

After three minutes you feel like you know him. Now, if you met him in person or watched him give a speech or already had an opinion of Leach and what you observed or thought doesn’t match with the video (in other words the video presents an inauthentic version of the candidate), that’s when campaigns get into trouble.  The other question is does Leach’s personality so evident here come across in the other aspects of his campaign?

In other words, can the campaign present a unified vision of itself to the public? Its a theme I’ve talked about before, ads are a great medium to communicate your message, emotion and personality, but its’ not enough to communicate it, the campaign or brand has to embody it too.

Personality is great, too often campaigns run from their candidates personality, offering a watered down version of what they think voters want (consumer brands do this too). But what voters (and consumers) want is authenticity, Apple is as extreme a brand identity as any mainstream brand, it seems to do well with buyers. This video is powered by personality, and that’s a good thing.

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Sometimes we confuse the jelly with the donut.

September 4, 2013

I like this spot so much better when we’re hearing from the candidate…

It’s like passion, energy, connections, then Blah (message), Blah (poll issues), Blah (on the nose), energy again.

When it comes to emotion v. message which one will you remember from this spot?

Real is the new Real

May 14, 2013

Real emotions win. People can tell the difference between real and fake. That’s why actors get paid so much becayuse the best of them can convince us what they’re feeling is real.

This Target spot is interesting, highlighting Target’s investment in education in a very raw real way. They could have told you how much money they invest (in fact they do, though I can’t the life of me remember that number, can you), they could have told you how many students they help or why a college education is so important. In other words they could have stuck to the facts. Instead they focused on the emotion.

I’ve been re-reading the classic “Made to Stick,” there’s a point they make in the book: “Statisitcs are rarely meaningful in and of themselves. Statistics will, and should almost always be used to illustrate a relationship. It’s more important for people to remember the relationship than the number.”

What are you going to remember from this commercial?

A good story should connect the dots

May 8, 2013

Last time Terry McAufliffe ran for governor he lost the primary. I think I looked at his ads back then and thought they looked inauthentic.

He’s running again, no primary this time, are his ads any better?

This is one of those ads that tries to connect the dots, but I’m not sure what I’m supposed to walk away thinking. I thought the first part about where he talks about starting a business was interesting, but then it veers into family and creating jobs. I’ve been slowly re-reading the classic book “Made to Stick.” In the chapter on Simple (one of the rules of SUCCESS), the say (wisely) that if you say three things you aren’t saying anything.

That’s kinda how I feel about this ad. It’s sort of a broad brush paint by numbers approach, that pretends to tell you something but really doesn’t say anything particularly interesting. They hit all the highlights for me, but don’t really tell me a story that puts all the pieces together. Is he a hard worker? Self starter? Family guy? How exactly does he know (other than a poll) that Viriginia wants good jobs? A good story can create a framework, something to unify those elements. A good story can be told either in the text or subtext, but this ad does neither, so I’m left just watching a bunch of blah, blah, blah.

Real honest to goodness authenticity (and we really mean it)

May 6, 2013

I talk a lot about authenticity here. That’s because the best stories, the most compelling storytelling has truth and authenticity at its’ core. It’s not always enough for something to be true, it also has to ring true. That’s a hard lesson to live by.. . I remember many years ago working on an ad, we put a number in there for some fact or another, the number was 100% abosultely true, but it was so large, it just felt… unbelievable. We ended up taking it out because it required too much of the viewer.

I’m all for pushing viewers, not catering to the lowest common denominator as so many ads (political and otherwise) do these days, but you also have to know your audience, and understand their mindset. Like I’ve said before, it’s a fine line between stupid and clever. 

(The Walmart video has several videos all about the same in message and emotion.)

Walmart and JC Penny, both trying to convey a mea culpa of sorts. Walmart of course trying to make themselves something other than the huge behemoth crushing local business and wages, a comapny that treats it’s employees as cheaply as its products. JC Penny fresh off trying to transform itself with Ron Johnson, who ran the Apple stores for so many years, facing falling stock prices and sales.

Both comapnies deserve credit for confronting the elephant in the room, and realizing that they have issues, that shouldn’t be ignored. The question about both of these ads are they authentic in any way?

Is JC Penny really sorry? Are they sorry for not listening or because their changes failed to draw more customers?

Is Walmart really the great place to work and shop they say it is? Just because they say it with happy music and happy customers (and employees) does that make it true?

There’s a story my mom tells… One day the phone rang, my dad answered. “Mr Strasberg,” the voice on the other line asked,”We’re calling for President Nixon….”

“Yes,” my dad answered unphased.

“Yes, we were hoping you could help us with a problem… We’d like you to help us make the President look truthful.”

“I see,” said my dad, “Well, that’s easy, if you want to make the President truthful, then have him tell the truth.”

This is the essential problem with both these ads, and all ads like these ones. The truth speaks for itself. Trust is earned, truth can’t just be created it has to be bought, not with money or air time, but with hard authentic work. There’s no short cut to truth except truth itself. I think both JC Penny and Walmart are going to find this lesson out the hard way.

 

 

The story matters

May 3, 2013

Sometimes you luck into a the story. Think Subway and Jared.

I’ve seen some articles of late saying union membership is down, and unions are talking to their own members not to the public.

Then I watch a video like this one from MLB and Bryce Harper, and I think why aren’t they telling this story, not this exact story, but stories like this. If unions have any symbolic power, its this story of the regular hard working man (or woman) trying to make a better life for his family. It’s a story as old as America, why aren’t unions tapping these stories at a time they need them the most?

Is it what you say or how you say it?

November 15, 2011

I watched this ad yesterday, the latest salvo in the Massachusetts senate race, and I knew I wanted to comment about it.  Watching it again today, it’s amazing how much I forgot about it, ok I’ll get to that later.

What I responded to in this ad was the message, Warren is unapologetically saying she’s a crusader against Wall Street, and she’s going to fight for the 99%.  What’s interesting is that she does it (unlike me) deliberately without invoking the language of the Occupy Wall Street movement. Of course, you all remember Crossroads GPS just attacked her for her liberal extremism as the intellectual underpinnings of that protest movement.

What I think Warren does successfully here is embrace the message without embracing the messenger.  She doesn’t run from who she is or her record, she doesn’t defend herself “before you hear a bunch of ridiculous attack ads” (which of course have already started), but rather issues a forceful statement of principles and values.

Alright, that’s 130 or so words in praise of this ad. When I first started this blog, I broke my reviews up into a form grade and a function grade, while I found that format too constraining and not ultimately helpful, I think it’s instructive here.  The function of this ad would be an A-, the form, on the other hand, being generous would be a C.

What I remember from the ad was the message: Warren fights Wall Street, which is a pretty good summation, but loses all of the detail and texture of the message. I loved the archival pictures, so vivid, but the text is kind of flat and at times falls into political cliche. The taking on the powerful interests message was lost on me until I re-watched the ad, her story had drifted away.

For a candidate who has capture so much support and excitement of voters, her delivery is alright, but not especially compelling. Was a scripted ad read off a teleprompter the best way to go here? I’ve never heard her speak, but I can’t help but think an interview ad going over the same message points, but spoken spontaneously would capture more of the real Warren. Here, I feel like I’m watching a candidate speak, the ad is well executed for what it is, but it’s not compelling in the least.

Warren wants to tell us who she is, but I feel watching this ad that she’s hiding behind a teleprompter and words written by a political consultant. I want more from her than this ad gives.

Again, maybe that’s not fair, maybe she stinks in an interview, but what the ad gives in message is lost in authenticity. (Don’t get me wrong, it’s not that I don’t believe Warren, I just don’t connect to her.)

If you averaged my earlier form grade C with the function grade A-, you end up about a B, and that’s where I’d put the ad, B/B-. It’s not a bad opening ad, certainly serviceable, but this blog isn’t about serviceable ads.  I’ve only really read about Warren in the book “Confidence Men,” by Ron Suskind, but she comes off as a compelling and intriguing figure there.  I can understand the excitement about her campaign, because I felt it too just from the little she’s in the book, she seemed genuine and passionate.

I don’t get that feeling here, or maybe I do, but it’s diluted.  Am I less excited about Warren now, no, but I’m a believer after all, am I more excited, not really. At the end of the day, this isn’t a bad ad, it’s right where it needs to be message wise, but I just felt the pieces were there for a great ad.

What’s wrong with this spot?

July 20, 2011

Dick Lugar is up with his new ad, trying to reach out to a party base that may have passed him by.

If they had come to me first and asked me what I thought, here’s how the conversation might have played out:

Me: “I like the last line, ‘a veteran fighting along side our new recruits, will help them….’ Do we need the ‘I’ll hope you agree before it?”

Them: “Well, [insert person’s name here, senator, staff, pollster, wife, donor] insisted that it be in there, makes him seem like a regular guy, you know?:

Me: “Ok, well it sounds kinda weak, when we want him to sound strong. Isn’t that the point of the spot? That’s he’s taken on this problems before, that’s he been toughened by age and experience? Now, why no music? It’s an interesting choice.”

Them: “Yeah, well we didn’t want to make it seem like a political commercial.”

Me: “Oh, you have a senator speaking directly to camera, but you didn’t want it to feel like a political commercial? Right now it feels really flat, music could help give an emotional frame to the spot.”

Them: “We didn’t want to seem like were trying too hard or being manipulative?”

Me: “Ok, well, to be honest the spot feels a little desperate right now, like Lugar is begging for support, it feels a little pandery [is that a word, pandering?]. And, well, what the word, the Senator, well, he comes off as kinda old looking. That’s what struck me the first time he’s on screen.”

Them: “Really? We had a special make-up artist who works with aging rock stars.” [That’s a true story, I used a make-up woman who’s specialty was aging rock stars, she used a spray gun to paint on the make up of an aging man running for office.]

Me: “Well he looks and sounds old, and he’s a little weirdly happy, when he should be more intense or something, again music would help….”

Them (looking increasingly like they want to leave): “Yeah. What else?”

Me: “What’s up with the Reagan shots.”

Them: “Conservatives love Reagan, Lugar worked with Reagan, therefore conservatives love Lugar. Get it?”

Me: “Yeah, well, the shots look dated, and make you realize that Lugar has been in office a long time. Who told him to smile the whole time? <Sigh>”

Them: “So basically, you think it’s emotionally flat, he smiles too much, looks old, and seems like he’s pandering?”

Me: “Exactly, and I just don’t buy it, feels like he’s trying to be something he’s not comfortable with.”

Them: “And that…”

Me: “Is that new, did I not say that before?”

Them: “No…”

Me: “Oh, ok, yeah it feels inauthentic too. Alright well, good first cut, let’s get back into the edit room and fix it.”

Well, it would have went something like that.

Playing with and against your story

July 14, 2011

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.

Is it 2012 already?

June 30, 2011

I reviewed the Crossroads GPS ad earlier this week, as you may remember they’re up with a $20 million buy.  Despite spending $20 million to run the ad, I found their ad cold, trying to make a rational case rather than wrapping an emotional case around some facts.

I came across this online video made by the Romney folks that takes on the jobs/economy theme much more effectively than crossroads.

Similar to the Crossroads ad, this one uses the President’s words and turns them against him. But where the Crossroads’ quotes felt out of context these feel devastatingly on point. While the CG’s with the numbers feel a little complicated, and I found hard to read, I did like the driving drum music, and the final shot of the empty factory was pretty powerful. Glad this ad is on the internet only and doesn’t have $20 million behind it.

Priorities USA responded to the Crossroads ad with this ad:

This spot is better than the Crossroads’ ad, while it didn’t break any new ground, and the portraits were neither particularly interesting (except for the kid at the end with the flag sitting on the soccer ball — I think it’s the ball that makes it feel authentic) nor innovative, they were trying to make the ad emotional. Gosh I do hate the ad in the TV effect showing your opponent’s attack ad, it so clunky, can’t we come up with something new? I did like the end line, “We can’t rebuild America if we tear down the middle class.”

Did I love this ad, no. It felt hackneyed and I would have rather seen more unoriginal portraits over the “ads blaming President Obama” section along with Rove headline rather than the ugly TV, it seemed to break the flow of the faces for me, and made the ad more political, and less about these people. At least they tried to hit the right emotional tone and tie it to the message, something the Crossroad ad failed to do.

These three ads/videos represent the opening salvo of the 2012 General election. Republicans want to make the election about Obama versus some hypothetical candidate, if they succeed then they win. Democrats want the election to be about Obama versus Romney or Pawlenty or Bachman or whomever, he wins that battle because they can’t compare (and their positions are ultimately unpopular). Of the three, the Romney video did the best job on striking that resonate chord. I still question if folks blame Obama for the economy or lack of jobs, they may be angry about it, but not sure they hold him accountable, voters have already made a decision about Obama, and worked the economy into that calculus.

If Republicans have any chance, they’re going to need more videos like Romney’s.


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