Posts Tagged ‘obama’

Everything you wanted to know about Subtext (but were too afraid to ask)

October 9, 2012

When I was at film school, I had a teacher Bill Reilly who taught me to understand the importance of subtext as a director. I grew up in an acting family, so I knew about communicating subtext to actors, as Boris might say, “Love is not ‘I love you,’ love is chicken.” But I had never thought about how the subtext of a scene might relate to how you filmed the scene. If two characters are talking, but the subtext is their separateness, that’s a different shot then if the subtext is their desire to be together. Bill taught me that, and it’s been among the most important lessons I took away from NYU.

When I first saw this ad, I wondered if it was some Onion satire, it was so sharp and funny, a parody of a political ad. It’s like a nested doll, a parody of an ad, that’s an ad itself, there’s a certain post revisionist meta brilliance to it (deconstruct that phrase for a moment, I have no idea what it means, but I like it). It’s an actual ad, running on cable not in battlegrounds, but still airing on TV’s across the nation.

I think at face value the ad is pretty funny and does a good job at subverting Romney. Not just the message of he’s getting tough on Sesame street, but not wall street, though that’s important. No, it somehow make Romney seem small and petty, Big Bird, really? Come on, don’t we have bigger issues to take on?

That’s the surface, but I think the true value of the ad is the subtext of its message. To me, this ad says Obama gets it. It’s funny and a bit whimsical, likable and clever. An ad like this makes Obama seem more real to me, because he’s tapping into the current meme of the election. It’s politics and its serious, but he’s not above being a little silly in the face of the ridiculous.

Maybe put another way, the ad is on-message, but it’s also on-emotion, it reflects what some voters are already thinking and amplifies it. That’s a powerful tool.

I don’t know if they intended that to be the subtext of the ad, again as Boris used to say, “your work is on the screen,” so whether they intended it or not, once it’s in there, that’s purposeful enough.

Subtext is a powerful tool, in my mind more powerful than the surface text, because it operates on the viewer, often unconsciously. This ad works on both levels, but the subtext “he gets it” can also translate to “he’s one of us.” To my mind that’s really more useful in this election than a clever hit on Romney and Wall Street.

 

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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.

Reinforcing the “truth”

May 15, 2012

Truth gets thrown around a lot in politics. What’s true? What’s not true? I read an interesting book recently “Storybranding,” that has something important to say about how we ought to think about truth.

In the book, the author talks a little about truth, but he divides truth into big “T” Truth and little “t” truth.  Put more succinctly by Robert McKee, “What happens is fact, not truth. Truth is what we think about what happens.”  The author then says, “Stories don’t create our beliefs. Rather, their themes are like magnets that find and attach themselves to beliefs that already exist.” (Story Branding, p. 215)

That leads to this ad by President Obama.

The execution of the ad is solid enough, nothing earth shaking. I do like the juxtaposition (in college, I tried to use that word in every paper I wrote, might be the greatest word… ever) of Romney’s quotes, how he cares about workers and the like, and the worker’s bitting comments comparing Bain and Romney to vampires. That part was pretty effective.

But I think more important than the elements of the ad itself are the theme it presents. The Obama campaign is working on creating a meme regarding Romney. Here’s the brilliant thing, and it gets to the the reason for my quotes, Obama is only reinforcing the narrative people already have in their minds about Romney.

The idea that Romney is an elite rich guy, who can’t understand working people. I don’t know if that account is factual or not, but given our definitions above, I think it’s pretty true. Take a look at this previous ad:

Again pretty standard stuff except for the last snarky line “That’s what you’d expect from a guy with a swiss bank account.”

I was talking with someone about Romney, and they said, well it’s not like we’ve never elected a rich guy before. That’s right, but it’s one thing to be rich, it’s another thing for people to think that being rich somehow make you out of touch or elitist.

What’s the point of all this? Why am I reviewing two pretty generic Obama ads?

I remember when  Slate Magazine doing their truth watch on the 2000 Presidential campaign with GW Bush and the liar Al Gore. The piece stopped after five articles because the author much to her surprise couldn’t find enough Gore lies to justify a continuing run. The author

The thing is, the stories we carry with us are powerful — like stereotypes, they help us navigate the world (like stereotypes those truths can often led us in the wrong direction too). When we can reinforce those truths with our ads, like Obama does here, and the effect resonates with viewers.

What happens when the “Truth” is against us? I alway thought the best weapon on Gore’s side was Spike Jonze’s unseen documentary — which was the only time I’ve seen him portrayed as a real person.

Romney now has a decision to make does he fight against this meme, this narrative? If he chooses to fight, then he has to proceed very carefully because just protesting will only reinforce the frame people already have.  He has to do more than tell people he’s not an elitist, he has to show them he’s not. If he can’t do that in an authentic way, then he’ll never convince people otherwise. Cause that’s the thing about truth, it’s sticky till it’s not.

 

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.

The first videos of 2012 Presidential election

April 4, 2011

So we have the first announced candidate of 2012. Want to guess who?  No not him, not him, not her, not him… It’s the one and only President Barak Obama.

This video feels a little like the Time Magazine person of the Year, when the cover was a mirror, the person of the year is… YOU! Yeah, how’d that go over for Time? Ok, that’s a little rough. But this video is missing something (and I’m not talking about the President —  interesting, he doesn’t make an appearance in the video kicking off his campaign)…, not sure what it is. But it’s not exactly, what’s the word, compelling.  It’s too early for a sense of urgency, I get that, but this feels somewhat somnolent (SAT word of the day, had to look it up).  Maybe they don’t want to invoke the passion of 2008 because they’re scare it can’t measure up, maybe they think it’s too early, maybe there’s some reason I’m not clever enough to guess, but in any case, there’s nothing here that grabs me, I’d be interested to hear what true believers feel.

This video kinda leaves me missing the Tim Pawlenty Michael Bay themed videos which is something I never thought I’d say. Maybe we can split the difference going forward?

Here’s an Obama parody video

I liked the “Morning in America” feel to the open and how it seemed like an Obama ad at first, unfortunately, the rest of the video is less parody and more political rhetoric. There are probably a lot of things you can hit Obama for, playing golf, meeting with Paul McCartney and filling in an NCAA bracket seem petty and mean spirited, not funny. And I found it slightly disingenuous to use Tea Party protests as a sign that Obama is dividing us (as opposed to said Tea Partiers and radical governors taking away the rights of workers).  Now, maybe this video wasn’t intended for me (it certainly wasn’t), but I doubt it would work with someone in the middle, maybe an independent voter who voted for for Obama in 2008, but voter Republican in the last election.

Even the Unicorn (which I liked) at the end felt a little like sour grapes. Is there an argument to be made that Obama sold America a bill of goods and hasn’t delivered, without a doubt (I think even some Democrats feel that way). Did this ad make that case? Not even close, it could have used the parody to make an unexpected case, to engage independents and even Democrats before springing it’s trap. By going for the low hanging partisan fruit they missed the juicer bits.

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:

Review: Chris Dodd Fighting Back for Us

June 2, 2009

This may be the first ad in the 2010 election season.  If you’re an incumbent US Senator running an election ad in May, a year and a half before the election, well, it doesn’t take a pollster to know you’re in trouble.  According to Nate Silver at FiveThirtyEight.com, this is number 3 on the list of seats most likely to change parties and number one among incumbents.  That’s quite a feat.  Nate finishes his analyisis with, “the important thing about Rob Simmons is not that he’s Rob Simmons, but that he’s not Chris Dodd.”

That’s interesting in light of the ad, an ad for Chris Dodd, about Chris Dodd, in which Chris Dodd hardly appears.  Even when he does appear, it’s in a group shot alongside President Obama.

Form (on a scale A-F): B-

Nothing really compelling about the form, it’s a pretty standard-issue political ad.  They did a nice job of making the stills interesting; adding the black and white to the end gives those images a sense of weight and importance — not inventing the wheel, but nicely done, nonetheless.  Pretty moves on the pictures.  I like that they didn’t try to cram too many shots into the spot and kept the pacing nice and easy.

Still, it’s striking that Dodd hardly appears in the ad, and when he does, he’s not front and center.  Between Obama and the woman in pink (Rep. Carolyn Maloney), it’s hard to find Dodd in that group shot.  I think that was deliberate.

Function (on a scale A-F): Incomplete

Is it a cop-out to say time will tell?  The ad is an obvious attempt to re-position Dodd: look he’s with Obama! You like Obama, Obama said his name, he helps people and fights big mean credit card companies, you don’t like them.  Get it?

The only 2 pictures of Dodd show him in a group with Obama in the center.  Dodd’s part of the Obama team.  You might be angry with him, but Obama needs him — Obama says that in his Dodd shout out, and it’s reinforced in the visual.

Final Grade (on a scale A-F): B-

Can one ad undo the damage that has been done to Dodd’s reputation?  Probably not.  Fortunately for Senator Dodd, it’s early enough in the election cycle that it doesn’t have to carry all the water in one audio-visual package.  This ad is the first of many to come.

A new study published in Advertising Age says “Though most campaigns cluster ads in a short period of time, consumers retain information better if it’s spaced out over longer intervals.” (Their emphasis.)  If this is the first of a long series of ads reframing Dodd, it’s probably a modest success.  If Dodd can continue to avoid the kind of special treatment stories that got hin into trouble, then this story can help smooth over the damage done and remind people why they voted for Senator Dodd over and over again.

This ad is also a good reminder that its hard to judge an ad out of the context of the campaign. If Dodd wins next November (assuming he makes it out of a primary), nobody will remember this ad, but ti probably played some small role in changing the Dodd story from a Seantor who’s out for himself to a Senator who is fighting for folks.  In that way, its kinda like the grunts on the ground in a war, doing its duty to the best of its ability, but part of a larger effort.


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