Posts Tagged ‘MacGuffin’

It’s hard to be funny… let’s be angry instead.

July 18, 2013

You know this video (and let’s be clear it’s 45 seconds long so it’s not running on TV) has the potential to be really good. But I think it misses the mark. Why? Because I think it’s way off-emotion.

The ObamaCarenado is trendy for sure, but instead of campy parody they go way over the top with fear and anger. Now, I will say I really liked the end, but in general, this video just feels really angry to me, whatever humor it may have is lost in that anger. Now that may play well to the base, but I don’t think it works so well with independent voters.

Good humor and good parody are hard. The video takes the easy way out, trying for neither and I think it accomplishes less because of it. Had they really bought into the Sharknado what could they have accomplished? Instead it just a macguffin to be angry. I guess that’s one way to go, but the creators of Sharknado have nothing to worry about.

A tale of Two ads (in one)

July 19, 2012

A couple of posts ago, I looked at the Tammy Baldwin ad where she talks about taking care of her grandmother. That ad failed because it forgot about telling a story in favor of relying talking points. The story was really just a MacGuffin, so it rang as inauthentic.

Now we have Mazie Hirono’s ad “Determined.”

So I really loved this ad or should I say the first :30 seconds of this ad. The graphics and pictures are wonderful, and I find her story totally compelling and interesting. Because this ad is a :60 second ad it let her really unwind the story without rushing.

Unfortunately it’s :60 second ad, and they felt compelled to get back to the issues because campaigns are supposed to be about the issues. Look, I know what people tell you they way (to quote Henry Ford, “If I asked people what they wanted, they would have told me they wanted faster horses”), but values are issues, and frankly I learned more about Mazie Hirono from the “soft” first :30 seconds than I did from the “hard” blah blah blah issues back end.

The transition from story to issues was awkward too, she’s telling a pretty personal story about her mother and growing up and suddenly the narrator interrupts (and it felt like interrupting) riffing off the word “determined.”

Look the issues part of the ad isn’t bad, it’s really nicely laid out and designed.  The issues are interesting, and not the same old same old we normally hear, but it’s an entirely different ad. It’s not like a Resses peanut butter cup (hey you got your chocolate in my peanut butter, you got your peanut butter in my chocolate…). Instead of :60, they might have been better off running 2 x :30 a bio/story spot and an issues spot that built off it.

I don’t know if the second part of the ad diffuses the power of the first, but it certainly gets lost in the emotional connection of the first part. Sometimes less is more.


February 29, 2012

I came across the new JC Penny ads today.  Usually JC Penny wouldn’t really hold much interest for me, but Ron Johnson, the new CEO of JC Penny was the man who designed and ran the Apple Stores is remaking JC Penny.

I liked these ads. Using Ellen is a bit of a MacGuffin, she brings attention to the brand, but also her association lends some character to a brand that’s really nondescript — what does JC Penny stand for anyway? Are they design oriented like Target? Or cheap like Wal-Mart?  What’s their story.

These ads are gimmicky and entertaining, but I think it serves a purpose beyond attention — it signals a new direction for JC Penny. By focusing on four different areas — returns, coupons, sales and $.99 pricing, they show the new direction.  They could have just run ads saying, JC Penny, no coupons, easy returns, blah, blah, blah. Instead they indicate the new direction, a sense of putting customers first, a sense of caring about customers in way that other stores don’t, a sense that they understand our frustrations (and in that sense Ellen as the “every women” is a perfect choice for a brand spokesperson).

My only quibble would be are they JC Penny branded enough? Meaning, do you watch the ads and know it’s a JC Penny ad without the fanfare?  But still, I think these are really well done, entertaining and on-emotion, good job.

Here’s another gimmick ad:

I liked the way they based the ad on a real stunt — that kind of coordination is great in a campaign.  The hurdles are clever a way to make it clear the attack on women’s health. A minute ad might seem like a luxury, but I thought it was nice that they took their time, let the viewer take in the stunt, the meaning of the hurdles and some of the message, without forcing it on us.

The ad kinda doesn’t know where to go after it introduces the stunt, so it loses some steam (there are a lot of shots of people looking at the hurdles, that I’m not sure if they’re helping), but it’s a solid B+/A-.

Hail to the chief

January 20, 2012

The president is up with his first ad.

When my wife forwarded me this ad, she added the comment that it seemed odd for a first ad.  Watching it, I have to agree.  You expect the first ad of the President to be bigger, more grand, more sweeping. Instead this ad is a small response ad on energy independence (not exactly a burning issue these days) — it feels more procedural rather than grand, more tactical than strategic.

Stepping back, I tried to think through the strategy behind leading with this ad.  My best guess is that this ad is setting up the message and themes of the campaign. Much in the same why a pitcher might setup his fastball by first throwing a change-up, I believe this ad is intended to prime the electorate.

1) The ad frames the race as Obama v. Billionaires. 

With super-pac spending out of control in the Republican primary, this ad is a shot across the bow, that Obama isn’t going to take it lying down. It also frames the race for the electorate, who are you going to believe Obama or secretive oil billionaires who are “not tethered to the facts”?

It also dovetails nicely with the theme that Obama is on the side of the middle class, while Romney has secretive oil billionaires on his side.  Who’s side do you want to be on in that fight?

2) Show that Obama is not just another politician.

It’s not about ethic or energy independence per se, those are macguffins for the real message: That he’s honest and he’s accomplished things other than health care and fighting over  budgets.

3) He already is seen as flash, this ad shows some substance.

We’ve seen Obama talking eloquently to huge crowds, we’ve felt the passion and flash. This ad is about the substance, the hard work of governing.

This ad stands as a good example of the kind of trench level ad that’s part of a larger ad campaign. It frames the story for independent voters, and injects itself into the narrative (responding to attacks against the president). On it’s own it’s pretty humdrum (and it feels like they cram one line too many into it), but as part of a larger more long term campaign it starts to make sense.

Form follows Emotion

January 10, 2012

I’m reading the Steve Jobs biography, and I came across this quote from his first designer, Hartmut Esslinger:

“Form follows emotion.”

The statement resonates with me particularly because I’m such a fan of form integrating with function, but of course in advertising function basically boils down to emotion.  The form should be connected intimately to the emotional frequency of the brand and message you’re trying to drive.

That leads me to a discussion of this ad:

This ad is surprisingly simple in form, but that simplicity is a strength in this case adding a verisimilitude to Huntsman.Using the debate clips without commentary is powerful, even the cutaways to Perry and Mitt looking flummoxed works and adds to the sense of reality.

Huntsman comes off as tough, honest, and eloquent. Talking about his kids in the navy serving a Democratic president is a nice touch.

While patriotism is a good quality in an of itself, it also serves as a macguffin — what Huntsman is really saying is he’s the principled one in the race. The contrast is obviously with Mitt, where Mitt is calculating and rising money, Huntsman is principled and committed to his values, even serving for a Democratic president because it was his duty. He’s not playing politics he’s serving his country, what more could you want in a President?

I think this is a very good ad for Huntsman, contrasting his strengths against his opponent’s weaknesses. It’s presents his best on-emotion argument for voting for him, in an authentic execution, the real question for him is this enough to propel his campaign forward? And, do Republicans care?

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.

A tale of two videos.

March 8, 2011

Wow, has it really been a month since I blogged? Well that’s just too damned long.  While there has been a dearth of interesting ads and videos (by interesting I mean something that I offers the potential for enlightenment — good or bad), I miss writing.  Also if you enjoy the blog posts you ought to be following me on twitter as I do tweet several times a week with interesting ads, design and the like.

Today, if you didn’t hear, is International Women’s Day. Over on twitter I was directed to two videos which basically give a snap shot on the status of women in the world. I will state before hand, I know that the two videos are different in scope and perspective on the issue (while espousing the same basic message), and in some ways it’s like comparing apples to oranges, but I work in politics, you should never let the facts get in the way of a good argument.

Ok, off the bat, I think the first video from the Harvard Kennedy School is pretty good. It’s professional and gets a lot of information in, isn’t completely technical and boring (which is easily could have been).

The second video obviously has a huge advantage, with Daniel Craig and Judi Dench (how awesome would it be to have Judi Dench narrate a political ad), that’s an advantage, but it’s not what makes it better in my opinion.  Judi Dench and Daniel Craig — the whole James Bond thing, is really just a MacGuffin. It’s a hook to get you to watch the video, and an anchor or shorthand to explain some of what they’re discussing (like the double standard on sexual promiscuity).

I also love the simplicity of the second video, the black with the light behind.  With so much information in the narration, it helps to focus our attention on the message. In fact the information in this video really is a Macguffin as well, you aren’t meant to absorb any one fact but rather the total sum of all the facts is what matter — it’s the impression that sum makes that is the impact of the video, but if you were asked in a survey to recall them, my guess is you wouldn’t be able to, yet the video is impactful nonetheless.

The strength of the second video is that it does in 2:00 minutes or so what the Kennedy School video takes 7:00 to do (and this is just the short version). Being to the point is important. I’m interested in the message of these videos, but the Kennedy School video loses my attention right around the 2:00-3:00 minute mark, after that point, I’m frankly bored. As good as the video is, it needs to make the point and move on, making the same point again and again becomes self defeating and self indulgent. I walk away unsure how I’m supposed to feel because, well because I didn’t make it through to the end (well only because I was watching for this blog).

I think the video feels in some ways like the inverse of the Bond video — each fact is as important as the other, but at the end of the day, by losing the emotional punch and my attention, it adds up less than the sum of it’s parts.

I’m not a SOB…, I’m you.

November 15, 2010

I miss political ads.  There I said it, you heard it.  I miss them, in all their glorious negativity and cliche grainy shots, I miss them. But just as I going to start a loop of the Daisy Ad, Morning in America, Willie Horton (which is actually a horrible ad), and Fast Talker, along comes my savior, the Chicago Mayor’s race.

Hey this guy looks familiar (actually he looks a little like George Clooney the way he’s dressed and with that salt and pepper hair). If I was Rahm’s political consultant, I would tell him the biggest hurdle he would have to overcome is to make him accessible. Some of this opinion might be inside the beltwayitis, but the notion Rahm and his personality are almost mythic.

The question of how to introduce a candidate is always a hard one. I like that they decided not to go for a traditional biography spot instead opting for a vision ad.  Well, really the vision part of it is a MacGuffin, it seems to me what they’re really trying to do is make Rahm a real likable person — to allow voters to connect to him.  They do a pretty good job of that too, grounding him as someone who is passionate about Chicago.

That’s a pretty powerful opening line, “Chicago is a great city, with great people, and I want my children to feel as passionate about it as I did growing up.” There’s a lot going on in that one line, some bio (has kids, he grew up here), some character (he’s passionate), and some values (a sense that he’s going to fight, that he wants to pass something important down to his kids). It’s something every parent can connect with, passing something down important to their children. That in and of itself makes Rahm human in a way a more tradition spot could not. It’sa line that’s working with the philosophy of “show don’t tell.”

Is this a great spot? No, but it’s a solid B, maybe B+. Visually it has the requisite shots of the candidate talking with folks, shaking hands interacting with kids in the classroom when you discuss education or with cops when you’re talking about “our streets.” No, the visuals are pretty standard and a couple (the rack focus taking Rahm out of focus and the end shot where’s he shaking hands, but not really looking at the guy) are odd choices.  The documentary style adds to a sense that he’s not pre-packaged and it creates a sense of reality that enhances the believability of the ad.

Essentially this ad is trying to do what the Christine O’Donnell witch spot could not, which is to take the image folks might have of the candidate and turn it (or spin it if you will) into something more positive. This spot works because it doesn’t ever go to far from what folks already know — if they had tried to show Rahm as all soft and cuddly then it would feel fake. Instead, they take the strengths of his image, and say he’s passionate and can make tough choices, now that’s believable.

My biggest complaint of the witch ad was that O’Donnell didn’t seem believable, this ad doesn’t have the problem, I think it’s very believable, and does a good job framing Rahm, which is ultimately the goal of your initial ad.

Negative Ad Trifecta

September 17, 2010

There’s a chapter in the fabulous parenting book, “Nurture Shock,” that talks about bullying. Contrary to the stereotype, most bullies are not the anti-social loners of Columbine myth (if you’re interested, you should read the gripping and thoughtful account, “Columbine”), but rather they’re usually at those at the top of the social food chain. Why? The reason is pretty simple actually, if you’re socially intelligent enough to climb to the top of the social ladder, you’re probably able to read people enough to know there weak points. In other words, bullies tend to be high in emotional intelligence, social intelligence, whatever you want to call it.

Ok, now you’re wondering what this has to do with political ad making?  I think good negative ads are a lot like those real bullies at the top of the social food chain. Anyone can make a negative ad.  Negative ads are both hard and easy: Easy because there’s almost no bigger cliche in politics than the negative ad — dark grainy picture, somber music, the picture of your opponent next to some CG like, “Stood with X [pick the symbol of the other side, over the years, it’s been Gingrich, Clinton, Bush, Kerry, these days it’s Obama & Pelosi] to do Y [pass health care, give a big tax break to the wealthy, run up deficits, cut social security…].”

Negative ads are hard though, hard to get right, hard to find the right balance, between information (which is really a MacGuffin) and emotion, between framing your opponent in the way that you want and letting the viewer get to that place on their own (so they feel like it was their own idea).  Between making the viewer not like your opponent, but not hate you too much. So many fine lines are there.  It’s easy to make a hammer, though often what’s needed is a scalpel.

A lot like the bullies of “Nurtureshock,” its not about punches and physical attack, but more about emotional and intellectual manipulation. You need to have a feel for it, otherwise you’re apt to make an ad like this one:

This ad feels like amateur hour.  Buck feels stiff and is obviously reading (uncomfortably) off a prompter. Compare this ad with the one from the other day with the horse racing.  Which one would you rather watch? Which one makes it’s point?  Heck, even the North Carolina rocking chair ad shows a certain negative IQ so to speak, here’s another ad that just feels a negative tone deaf to me:

Or this one from Jack Conway against Rand Paul.

I like how he uses Paul’s quote, that’s a nice way to validate your statement with the view, but at the end of the day, I just don’t believe it, in spite of the quote.

Knowing how far to push and when to draw the line in an attack is as important as knowing which attack to make.  This ad seems to go over both lines.

For comparison

August 11, 2010

I think this ad makes for a good comparison to the Melacon ad.

Where that other ad was vanilla and left me cold, this ad is much warmer. Part of that is personality I bet, Blumenthal might just come off better on camera, but also look at the background, the way they’re dressed.  I believe Blumenthal, even when he’s spouting message.

I also like the end tag: “For You. First. Last. Always.”

I think too often political ads are so focused on the issues, they’re not focused on the emotion. I couldn’t tell you what Blumenthal was talking about, but I do know I liked him better after watching the ad then before. Issues are usually a MacGuffin, they give the politician something to talk about, but really they should be a way to connect to voters.

%d bloggers like this: