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Friday, August 15, 2008

The McCain campaign has been running a bunch of negative ads slamming Obama:

Here's why these might not work. Watch them with the sound off. What do you get?

Right. Obama smiling. Obama waving to enormous crowds. Obama looking calm and serene and presidential.

By contrast, McCain looks kinda uncomfortable.

Oh, sure, there are words on the screen, too. Those say negative things.

But people don't tend to read words on their TV screen. TV is famously "radio with pictures."

There's also an announcer saying negative things about Obama. That's going to be a little more effective. But not that effective. The audience doesn't like to be lectured. It doesn't like you to "push" plot at it.

What it likes is to be pulled into a story. Look at this ad with the sound off:

There's potatoes in someone's hands. And people working. And wind power.

What's this about? we wanna know.

And then -- oh, hey, it's that Obama guy! I guess he's for people working. And for windmills and stuff. And solar panels.

In the McCain ads, the visuals make Obama seem like a good guy and a big leader. (I mean, why not use the footage from the ELLEN DEGENERES SHOW of him dancing ... ohhh, right, that would look racist. Ok, how about showing him playing basketball ... whoops, that just makes him look young. Damn! Doesn't he ever look stupid?)

In the Obama ad, the visuals make him look like a good guy, and tell a visual story where he's part of a movement towards new kinds of jobs.

One frustrating thing about writing for TV is that the audience is not paying attention half the time. You can't count on onscreen text to carry the weight. You can't dump the whole thing into dialog. You really have to craft something coherent. Or trick the audience -- by, e.g. not telling them what the ad is about until the end.

Part of the problem, I think, is that the McCain ad is trying to do too much. Slam Obama and build up McCain. You really only want to try to do one of those things in your thirty seconds. This is what advertisers call the Unique Selling Proposition -- you're supposed to hammer it home.

Just sayin.




1. I bought and read your book. Got me excited about writing my second screenplay. Especially enjoy the beginning... about "hook," and querying before you write the script. Does that really work?

2. I might be naive, but you have to explain to me the whole Obama fundraising in Canada thing. I mean, I get that the U.S. president will in some way affect the lives of Canadians. But do they really contribute to candidates' campaigns? I had never heard of this until your blog entry about it. I'm intrigued.

By Blogger Andy M., at 9:13 AM  

2. I'm an American, and I'm inviting other Americans to come watch Obama's speech and contribute to it. Canucks can't contribute to the American election.

1. Try it and tell me how it works for you!

By Blogger Alex Epstein, at 9:22 AM  

Awesome! I was watching the Olympics the other night with my girl (she typically mutes the TV during commercials) when these ads came on. I turned to her and said, "it sure was nice of McCain to pay for an Obama for president commerical."

BTW, I just discovered this blog and appreciate it very much. Thanks!

By Blogger Anthony, at 10:34 AM  

Ohhhhh. Thought you were Canadian. I'm dumb.

By Blogger Andy M., at 11:18 AM  

See, I'm tricky, because I'm both. I'm a native New Yorker who immigrated to Montreal by way of LA.

By Blogger Alex Epstein, at 11:56 AM  


My father, a former political science professor, was involved in a video called 30 Second Democracy that is about, as you might guess, political ads. If you're interested in this sort of thing, I'd recommend trying to find a copy of it.

By Blogger Tim W., at 12:17 PM  

My wife mentioned how the media has observed that during the Olympics, Obama has broadcast positive, upbeat commercials while McCain has been broadcasting negative, depressing commercials.

According to a post you made awhile ago about the market for TV isn't really bearing overly serious, depressing subject matter, Obama certainly has an image that caters to the market.

By Blogger The_Lex, at 2:29 PM  

While I would love to see Obama win, and do so by focusing on the positive rather than being dragged down by Rovian tactics, part of me wouldn't wish winning on Obama. I have very little hope for the US in the near future and no matter who gets in it's going to get a lot worse before it gets better. If the US continues to spiral down, I can't see Obama getting re-elected in four years and being, at least partly, blamed for the state of the country. Being elected Captain of a sinking ship isn't exactly what one would for for someone you dislike, let alone someone you like.

By Blogger Tim W., at 2:57 PM  

To continue the naval metaphor: if you think this gent can help you stave off the complete sinking of the vessel and get it into a condition sufficient to limp into a decent drydock, might want to consider supporting him for the captaincy anyway. It's going to mean a lot of stress, but it'll be for something worth doing.

By Blogger Dwight Williams, at 2:20 PM  

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