Posts Tagged ‘cliche’

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.

Who is this Guy?

February 22, 2012

Just finished a great book Storybranding  The book echoes a lot of concepts I discuss here on the blog, like the need for emotional connection, storytelling and authenticity.  One idea it discusses is the difference between the outer layer of a brand and the inner layer.  The out layer of a brand is the how — a better mousetrap, a easier to use computer, a new kind of laundry soap, the inner layer represents the why — the values and rationale for why a brand, company, politician does what they do.

I’ve been thinking a lot about these ideas in recent days, especially in light of Santorum’s rise and Romney’s lack of traction.  For simplicity sake, Romney is running for President, Santorum is running to restore American values (or something like that) — which message is more powerful. You don’t need to be a conservative to show (not tell) the values behind what you’re doing.  A good campaign is able to “show” it’s values in everything it does.

I bring up these thoughts in light of this first commercial from Bill Faison, running for Governor North Carolina.

My first question after watching the ad is, who is this guy?  I assume most of North Carolina really doesn’t know Faison, so they’re trying to build his profile.  Ok, I get that, but other than name id, what do you know about Faison? Really, do you have any sense of who he is, why he’s running?  The ad is filled with cliches: “Get North Carolina Moving,” “Working together.” Cliches are fine because they’re shorthand, but you start throwing them around and they start to become meaningless.

The ad starts with “A New Leader” and he’s “fighting for the little guy” — either one of those ideas (both cliche) would make a fine theme to introduce this guy to voters.  But tossed in here together with getting the state “back to work” and “world class schools” (more cliche), they’re near meaningless. I talked recently about kitchen sink ads, and while this one doesn’t quite rise to that class, it has so many different ideas, that it’s just more blah, blah, blah.

After 30 seconds, I have no idea who this guy is, I have no connection to him. What’s going to happen after 1000 points? As I’ve drilled my kids over and over, anything times zero equals zero, 10,000,000,000 x 0 = 0.

The point here isn’t to rip on one ad or make Bill Faison question his choice of consultant, the point is something bigger actually. Here’s your chance to introduce your candidate statewide, what’s the walk away? What the theme that you want them to connect to the candidate?  The theme doesn’t have to be in the text, it could be the subtext.  (The subtext in this ad seems to be Bill Faison is very soft spoken.) But, they need a theme and idea.  I love fighting for the little guy, hell, we all feel like little guys these days with the bad economy, but here its nothing more than a throwaway line, that we’re told and expected to believed.  How much better would it have been to have shown us. As a lawyer, he fought for regular people injured by medical negligence and big corporations (I just got that from his wikipedia page).

This kind of ad makes me angry, because it’s shot fine, and it’s predictably standard that no one will call it out for being the worst kind of tripe. Forget mudslinging and negative ads, these re the ads that destroy our faith in politicians and make us increasingly cynical about the political process, forget ineffective, this ad is guilty of a far worse crime.

Like a duck

October 19, 2010

This is the kind of simple ad, that really take a lot of work.  What a pain it must have been to find all those clips and match them up. The visual execution is not groundbreaking, but it’s good enough and doesn’t step on the message.

This ad is like a duck, on the surface it’s calm and seems to be barely straining, underneath, it’s paddling like crazy.  On the surface this ad is devastatingly effective because it is tying to Whitman to Schwarzenegger, who is not particularly popular in California.

Under the surface lies the real punch in this ad.  The repetition of the language points to the common cliches politicians use.  Hearing her words echoing Schwarzenegger’s makes them all the more meaningless, they’re just platitudes with no real meaning, no real value. At end of the ad, with the San Jose Mercury line splashed across the screen, “She utterly lacks the qualifications to be governor,” there’s a real feeling that Whitman is just an empty suit with nothing real to say.

Attack and Counter in Kentucky

October 18, 2010

In this race, Conway is down, but not an insurmountable amount, but time is running out.  They can go back and forth or they can try for the big play, swing for the fences, knock out blow, pick your favorite sports analogy here. Well, they sure went for it.

I have to appreciate the fact that they didn’t sugar coat, didn’t back down, didn’t try to hide behind a euphemism, but damned this is an ugly ad, for it’s look as much as it’s content. The ad is so extreme in it’s claim, that it’s hard for me to judge how effective it’ll be.

To me, it feels like it’s trying real hard, almost too hard.  Desperate might not be the right word…, I think the word I’m looking for is pandering. Hey Kentucky, you’re Christians, well Rand Paul he’s not or maybe he’s not, see don’t you hate him now, huh, please, right?  (Eyebrows making exaggerate pleas.)

There’s no formula to these things, but I believe that the harder and more outrageous the claim, the softer you ought to sell it. This ad is an 11 on the claim scale, and a 9 on the political negative cliche scale.

Josh Marshall said, “It registered for me as somewhere between a hokey Tea Party ad and an SNL spoof.” It’s never a good thing when your hard hitting negative looks like a spoof of an ad. In the whole form supporting function, it just doesn’t add to the credibility of the ad.

It’s one thing to make the decision to air the attack, but the manner it was aired makes it feel clumsy and desperate, a more refined ad, might have overcome that problem.

Paul countered with this ad stating, “He has Christ in his heart,” and that Conway is “[bearing] false witness” against him.

The response to Conway’s attack makes me wonder if Paul didn’t feel vulnerable to it. Seems like overkill to say you both have “Christ in your heart” and he’s bearing false witness again you, but I’m from Kentucky, and I’m not the one who’s had my christianity questioned.  Obviously that last line is a not too subtle attempt to invoke biblical language.  Again feels like pandering to me, “See Kentucky, I can say things like bear witness and smite, so I must be Christian….” Ok he doesn’t say “smite” but maybe he should have.

The response is pretty cliche (other than false witness which you don’t hear very often these days), dark grayed out shots of Conway, his lips flapping hard edged newpaper headlines to accentuate their point (though the script ads the line “gutter politics at its worse,” which isn’t a quote as far as I can tell).  This ad isn’t as over the top as the original ad, but if Boris were here he might say, “Rand,… check yourself…..”

So who wins this round? Both ads are pretty lame, so as far as form goes, it’s a draw.  The Conway ad feels a little cheaper, the Paul ad cleaner and slicker, but neither one distinguishes themselves.

So if it comes down to function, I’ll give the win to Conway on the technical point that they raised the issue, and it seems that’s what folks are talking about with two weeks left in the campaign.  Maybe it backfires, maybe it doesn’t work, but it’s not what Paul wants to be talking about that’s for sure.

Typical

August 19, 2010

This is about as standard a political ad as you can get.  Filled with all the cliche’s:

“The Facts…”

“[Insert candidate’s name here] voted…” Votes that show the opposite quality of the attack.

“And… [insert opponent’s name here] voted to do…” Issues of the year, today it’s shipping jobs overseas & privatizing social security.

Nothing wrong with it, expect it’s totally forgettable, and it’s too logical, or rather it’s relying on logic rather emotion.

Blah, blah, blah

July 29, 2010

Brad Ellsworth up with his first ad.  Ok, here’s my issues:

1. The guy is a Congressman, and he talks about Washington like he’s never seen the Capitol.  He works there.  It just seems disingenuous.  

2. I like that he says “bull,” and it’s a nice segue to the fact he was a sheriff for 25 years (doesn’t say he is a Congressman), but if I have to hear the same tired lines about Washington, again and again this cycle it’s gonna make me vomit. 

Look cliche is fine, you have 30 seconds to get across a lot — heck that’s why they filmed in a broken down factory (interesting location by the way), and cliche is a great shortcut, but as Boris would say, “Guys check yourself.” When you find yourself slipping into cliche whether visually or in your script, you have to pause and ask yourself, is there another way to show or say this? Can I do something surprising or new here? Sometimes the answer is yes, that’s when something cool usually happens. 

Sometimes the answer is no. That’s when you get an ad like this one with the same old blah, blah, blah.

On a lighter note

June 24, 2010

A while back I posted a video parody of a new cast.  I talked a little about cliche, genre, and the the uses and limits of shorthand.  This parody of a political ad obviously makes good use of that shorthand.

As you watch the political ads roll out of the meat grinders this political season, look for those cliches, and think how would you have done it differently?  How could you surprise your audience?  How could you use their expectaions to your advantage?

Still, this is pretty funny.

With you never a quickie, always a longie…

February 1, 2010

A classic line from the classic movie “Love at First Bite.” No idea if it still holds up, but when I was 10 it was really funny.  That was a long way to introduce a quick post.  I can across this video the other day:

It’s a brillant parody of genre, in this case the news genre.  I started thinking about the gimmicks, tricks, & shortcuts we use in political ads — especially the negative ads: Grainy B&W footage of your opponent, the music, the headlines in negative (white text on black copy — scary).

Genre is a funny thing because those conventions are helpful, they’re a shorthand, they let people know what to expect, what’s coming, they save time (and words) by communicating a lot in a simple image or sound.  But genre is also a trap, it’s so easy, and readily recognizable that it can quickly become cliche.

Again cliche can be helpful sign to folks, and as Magnum P.I. once said, “Cliches are cliches because they’re true.” When I write, I try to be careful about not using cliche’s, or at least if I use them I hope they’re just a place holder for a more original construction.

It’s the same thing with ads, but still cliche’s are so damned easy and so damned safe, pre-approved if you will.

But the problem is exactly that, cliche is familiar your audience doesn’t have to pay attention or the cliche has lost its meaning after having been used, and used, and over used again and again and again.  You can use cliche to surprise your viewer, to break their guessing machine, as the Heath brothers say in their wonderful book, “Made to stick,” and get their attention.

Like Ned Lamont and the messy desk or this ad from Michael Steele:

The next time you find yourself falling into cliche think is there a non-cliche way to write this line, film this shot, bring up this graphic.  Sometimes the cliche is the easiest, most efficient way, but we should all try harder.

It’s a cliche to end a piece on cliche with a cliche, so I’ll spare you that cliche at least.

Blast from the past

August 31, 2009

Wow (that’s not wow in a good way).

It’s almost like they wanted to replicate a negative ad circa 1996 with this one. It’s so heavy handed as to be laughable. That might have worked in the early days of negative ads, but today, it feels cliche and over the top. I find it hard to take seriously.

“But he prosecuted people, who did the same thing…” (My emphasis based on bad direction to the voice over talent.)

My wife said it seemed kinda sleazy.

I asked, “What Christie did?”

She answered, “No the ad.”

I agree, it’s just kinda sleazy and lame and there’s no subtly at all. Is it effective? I don’t know, Christie is increasingly being seen as a Republican crony, so the attack has some salience and drives home the message that is peculating out there. But, by going too far in it’s presentation, it risks making that message political rather than authentic.


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