Posts Tagged ‘Robert McKee’

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.

 

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Quick Review: ALZHEIMER “FORTUNATELY”

June 15, 2009

A friend sent me this ad late Friday. In between work and the weekend, I’ve been thinking about it since.  Andrew Sullivan called attention to it on the Daily Dish. He called it, “Heartbreaking. But effective.” My friend agreed.

I’ve watched the piece 5 or 6 times, trying to decide what I think about it. Here’s a quick review.

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

I think Boris would call this ad, “Lyrical.” It was produced by Saatchi & Saatchiin France, so maybe it’s that European feel.  It’s very sparse — only 12 shots total.  Next time you think you need all those shots or fancy graphics to tell a story, watch this ad.  35 seconds of images (there’s about 10 seconds for the end cards) and 12 shots.  This spot tells a story very cleanly and without any spoken words.  It clearly shows instead of telling, a cardinal rule of script writing.

It’s also well-edited; not fancy, not calling attention to itself, but there’s usually a shot that sets up the scene, then a shot that explains what we’re seeing.  Its form adds to the emotional connection.  It gives you time to take in the scenes.

Then there’s the CG (words on the screen or computer graphics) that comes up at the end.  Smart writing and nice use of the end effect to make a point; the CGs blow off like so much dust in the wind, like memory itself fading away.

Function (on a scale A-F): B

Here’s my problem with the ad — is it really effective?  The ad is heartbreaking to be sure, and emotion gets you to care.  Is that all it’s asking?  Yes, I care, now what?  Is it too sparse?  I really wrestled with this grade because I like so many of the elements that went into this ad, and the clean, not didactic message is really appealing.  At the end of the day, I don’t know, so I punted and gave it a B.

That grade would become a C if the ad was intended to drive some further action.  It would become an A if it was only intended to drive awareness.

Editor’s Note: I had some more insight on this ad walking home after posting this review.  I was listening to Robert McKee’s “Story,” which, while annoyingly pompous in tone (both on the page and in audio format),  is also considered a master class in structure and story elements.  It’s primarily for screenwriters, but also really interesting for anyone who wants to understand story structure better.  McKee was talking about different kinds of structures.  Of one, which he call Nonplot, he says, “Although nothing changes within the universe of a Nonplot, we gain a sobering insight and hopefully something changes within us.”  With that in mind, watching the spot again, it seems the very definition of Nonplot.  It’s certainly a more European aesthetic and watching this ad feels more like watching a foreign film than an American one.  Leave it to Robert McKee to explain a French Alzheimer’s ad to me.

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

Yeah, the grade should average out to a B+, but given my ambivalence on the function grade, I decided that the form should rule the day.  Do I feel dirty, promoting form over function?  A little, actually.  But while not innovative, it was exquisitely and elegantly put together.

Is it manipulative? Yes, but isn’t that what ads are? I guess you could call this spitting on the table — it’s shocking, and in some ways an easy target.  Seniors with Alzheimer’s, how could that not pull at the heartstrings.  Too easy? I don’t know.  Much like this Volkswagen ad, when shock value is used effectively, I think it’s fair game. What I don’t like is shock value for shock value’s sake.  I think this ad is thoughtful in its approach like that Volkswagen ad; it isn’t just a gimmick, but rather deliberate and focused.  So, if someone spits on the table knowing the effect it will have, deliberately calculating their spitting (just how far can I go with this metaphor?) then I think that’s different.

In any case, this ad stands as a good counterpoint to all the yelling, fast-cutting, and graphics-heavy ads that are on the air today.


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