Thursday, October 28, 2010
Commercials You Might Remember Unlike the famous - or infamous - Daisy ad from the 1964 Lyndon Johnson - Barry Goldwater campaign, most political commercials today are cut from a predictable pattern. In the typical ad the opponent is rotten, the other guy is a genius. It is the rare commercial that breaks the mold and breaks through. Political junkies know the story of the famous ad man Tony Schwartz who filmed the adorable little girl pulling the petals off a daisy with her innocent image ultimately fading into a nuclear blast and a mushroom cloud. The ad aired only once during a CBS Monday night movie in September 1964, but is generally credited with helping ensure Johnson's landslide victory. The ad is famous enough that it was mentioned in the first paragraph of Schwartz's obit when he died in 2008. In my searching around, I've found nothing on par with the Daisy ad, but have identified a handful of ads worth remembering this year; mostly positive and one just a great example of raw, effective political propaganda. The campaign of California's comeback gubernatorial candidate, Jerry Brown, has actually produced two of the better ads of the season. This side-by-side mash up of soundbites from unpopular current Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and current GOP contender Meg Whitman is not only well done, but very effective. But, it is Brown's closing ad reminding Californians what he had done as governor that likely seals the deal. Republican Marco Rubio appears to be coasting to a Senate victory in Florida. His closing ad asking for the vote is one of the best I have ever seen. It's long - two minutes - but the length allows him, in a very compelling way, to tell a story - his story. In the best tradition of some of the great Reagan ads, it is inspiring, aspirational and positive. Keep an eye on this guy. Tom Barrett is the Democratic candidate for governor in Wisconsin and the current mayor of Milwaukee. The polls indicate he is not likely to win, but his campaign gets points for a skillful and compelling spot featuring his wife as she talks about her husband getting attacked while trying to help a grandmother ward off an assault. The whole thing could have been awkward, even tacky, but it isn't and like the Rubio spot tells the viewer a good deal about the candidate. My final spot of note - the Chinese Professor ad - has already become an Internet sensation. Writing in The Atlantic, James Fallows says this spot will be the one we remember in 10 years. Could be. It has all the elements - a story, Chinese students in 2030 considering the demise of the United States economy; just enough truth to get you thinking and until the very end there is no hint that this is about policy and politics. As Fallows says, as truth the ad is really good propaganda since the spot "has the Chinese (professor) saying that America collapsed because, in the midst of a recession, it relied on (a) government stimulus spending, (b) big changes in its health care systems, and (c) public intervention in major industries -- all of which of course, have been crucial parts of China's (successful) anti-recession policy." Still, it wouldn't be good propaganda were it not effective. You know the Chinese Professor ad is effective because it has already spawned a parody that turns the original message on its head. So few of the thousands of political ads are good enough to be memorable, its worth pausing to celebrate the handful that are. It is also worth noting that the really good ads, like this small collection, tell a compelling story and avoid talking down to the viewer. There is an element in each ad that says, in a way, we trust you to vote intelligently. A nice thought.