Ad Watch: Hodgepodge Edition

Written by Morgan Pehme on . Posted in AdWatch.

2014 commercials already? Some candidates for U.S. Congress are already up with ads online, likely presaging the intensity of the battle that will be waged in the midterm elections next year. Of course, the majority of us have only just turned our attention to this year’s general election. While the airwaves are not yet saturated with spots aimed at convincing us how to vote this November, there are still plenty of commercials for us to consider. Thus, we present this hodgepodge edition of Ad Watch.

Title: “Noam Bramson 40% Pay Raise”
Candidate: Rob Astorino
Produced by: NLO Strategies (New York, NY) and Digiworks Media (Brookfield, CT)
Length: 30 seconds
Description: This ad is another installment in a series hammering away at Bramson, the challenger to Westchester County Executive Astorino, for giving himself a pay raise as New Rochelle’s mayor. The ad concludes with a refrain from previous spots, delivered in a testimonial from a senior citizen: “Westchester just can’t afford Noam Bramson.”

Pros: This ad initially caught City & State’s attention because it is the first commercial to draw footage from our fledgling Last Look video series. Bramson’s smile in that clip—which is freeze-framed, discolored and turned off-kilter, of course—is one of several well-selected shots of Bramson that make him look as loathsome and unhinged as possible. The African-American woman who gives the negative testimonial at the end of the ad comes across as stingingly credible.

Cons: The stock photos of the firefighter and police officer used in this ad are just one of the elements that give this ad a forgettable, paint-by-the-numbers attack ad feel—the kind of spot that easily blurs in the mind of the viewer into a million other commercials in this vein that they have seen over the years. That being said, it pounds away at a very simple, one-note concept, so even if the particulars of this ad vanish from the voter’s memory, the accusation could very well stick.

Expert Opinion: “Though the production of this ad is not first-rate, its message is crystal clear: Bramson took a pay raise his first year in office and raised taxes at the same time. Additionally, the ad claims Bramson cut fire fighters and police. It might not be pretty, but in terms of effectiveness, it hits the mark.”—Scott Levenson, President and Founder, The Advance Group

Title: “That’s NOT OK in Westchester”

Candidate: Noam Bramson

Produced by: Murphy Vogel Askew Reilly (Alexandria, Va.)

Length: 30 seconds

Description: This spot takes aim at “5 lies” it claims that the incumbent Westchester County Executive Rob Astorino has leveled at his opponent, Bramson, in attack ads, and then pivots to label Astorino an extremist for his stances on guns, gay marriage and abortion.

Pros: Starting with the effective attention-grabbing trick “Check it out,” this ad is slickly produced and makes good use of animation and titles. It is reminiscent—though inferior to in its content—to this ad Murphy Vogel made for Rep. Tim Bishop, attacking Randy Altschuler, which Ad Watch analyzed in 2012.

Cons: One must assume the Bramson campaign’s internal polling showed that the barrage of attack ads the Astorino camp has been hurling at him has done damage, because otherwise reminding viewers so specifically about those ads is a mistake, even in the context of discrediting them. The sudden pivot in the middle of the ad to a counterattack feels jarringly forced. Though the substance of the attacks will likely resonate with many Westchester voters, because the setup is inadequate, it comes across as scattered, and fails to land on a clear takeaway.

 Expert Opinion: “This ad is immediately problematic, as it requires the viewer to have the context of the previous attack ad. Some of the claims made are in the ad and some are not. Blatantly, it fails to be a true response by not answering the pay raise charge at all. The clear miscalculation of the commercial is further illustrated by their attempt to do too many things in the same ad. The message is jumbled leaving us to question the goal of the ad. Is it response? Is it comparative? Is it attack? The message the viewer is coming away with is not clear at all.” —Scott Levenson, President and Founder, The Advance Group


Title: “Our Best Century Yet”
Candidate: Chris Gibson
Produced by: Meath Media Group (Washington, D.C.)
Length: 1 minute 12 seconds
Description: This Web spot reintroduces viewers to Congressman Gibson, touching upon his background in the armed forces and summarizing his vision for improving upstate New York. It concludes with a direct fundraising appeal and an invitation to connect with the campaign via social networking.

Pros: This red meat for patriots ad features no fewer than nine shots with American flags in 72 seconds. It also repeats the words “strong” and “freedom,” and not-so-subtly works in other vocabulary that evokes Gibson’s military service like “shot,” “mission,” and “fighting.” The very first image of the ad—a pan from the blinding light of the heavens to a smiling Gibson and his wife—is another obvious touch, yet not one that is necessarily ineffective. For the audience at which this spot is aiming—conservative, proud American upstate voters—this commercial could very well come across as comforting, if not inspiring.

Cons: This is certainly not an all-audiences spot. If you are not its target viewership, it could very well strike you as pandering pabulum—a stream of empty jingoistic rhetoric. Subtlety is not its strong point.

Expert Opinion: “Completely generic and forgettable. Who is he? What office is he running for again? Dog catcher in Alabama? No mention of what he’s accomplished or why he’s at all distinguishable. A shopping list—brain-dump really—of issues with zero connection to local concerns. Why isn’t he speaking to the voters? Voice-over alone isn’t effective. Way too negative, despite swelling music and patriotic theme—all problems, no solutions! Says it’s hopeful but isn’t. Might as well be a stirring but pointless commercial for a local used car lot, though at least that would have more of a connection to the community it’s trying to sell in. And unless he’s running against a Communist and it’s 1956, too much with the “We’re great” theme. New century? We’re 13 years into it already.”—Political and media consultant Michael Tobman

Candidate: Martha Robertson
Produced by: Snyder Pickerill Media Group (Chicago)
Length: 1 minute, 5 seconds
Description: This Web spot, publicly unlisted on YouTube, is aimed at raising money for the candidate through ActBlue, the Democratic fundraising site. A classic introductory ad, it covers 2014 congressional candidate Robertson’s accomplishments as chair of the Tompkins County Legislature, and uses her love of gardening to tell her personal story.

Pros: By anchoring Robertson’s personal narrative to a gardening theme, this introductory ad makes her biography memorable.

Cons: The lettering—white on white with black shadowing—listing Robertson’s accomplishments in the Tompkins County Legislature defies basic rules of graphic design. The music, though better than it is in an alternative iteration of this ad floating around the Web, is still one step away from Muzak, and doesn’t help the cause. Robertson’s line readings leave something to be desired, too. She comes across as sincere, but lacking in energy. The more dynamic leader we see in the footage intercut from her campaign event doesn’t come across when she is speaking to the camera.

Expert Opinion: “Very effective, love it. After a burst of activity that draws you in, she engages the camera, and comes across as at ease and genuinely pleased to be speaking with her neighbors. Talks about her parents and siblings with affection—as people, not as props. Discusses, in a shared and positive way, local accomplishments as demonstrated ability to cooperatively solve problems. No unbearable ego here! Presents her bio as an accomplished woman (key majority demographic!) in one tight sentence, conveying her understanding that life is serious business but that it’s also important to make time for gardening and yard work. Coupled with a forceful phone canvass and voter ID plan, this spot provides smart air cover. —Political and media consultant Michael Tobman

Title: Real Tom Suozzi
Paid for by: Nassau County Republican Committee
Production: Committee did not respond to calls from City & State to determine who made this ad
Length: 30 seconds
Description: A senior speaks directly to the camera, accusing Suozzi of raising taxes when he was county executive, while giving himself a pay raise.

Pros: The first line, “Tom Suozzi must think we’re stupid,” is an old but nonetheless effective rhetorical trick to get the viewer’s attention. The senior citizen, clearly an actor, embodies the voting demographic this ad aims to sway, which could make certain viewers share her over-the-top indignation.

Cons: This ad is tired and forgettable. The black and white photos of Suozzi, the bright red lettering, the line of attack—all of the elements are so generic that it is hard to imagine this ad moving any voters, other than those who already share its perspective.

Expert Opinion: “The anti-Suozzi ad is stale and circa 1987. What the ad lacks in production quality, it does not make up for in creativity and innovation.” — Chris Coffey, Tusk Strategies

Title: #ItsTime: Sergio for Mayor
Candidate: Sergio Rodriguez
Production: Shot by JD Films (Syracuse, N.Y.), conceived by the candidate and Bob Lingle
Length: 1 minute 38 seconds
Description: This dramatically scored ad lists a series of depressing statistics about Buffalo and then moves to a diverse range of residents saying, “It’s time” (the campaign’s Twitter hashtag) to turn around the city.

Pros: This nicely shot ad pops with vibrant colors and strong locations.

Cons: This Web spot is reminiscent of Rodriguez’s opponent Mayor Byron Brown’s brilliant ad “Progress,” but the contrast in execution between the two is humbling. The script is decidedly weaker, falling back on generalizations instead of the powerful specifics driven home in Brown’s video. The titles cards over picture are a shade amateurish too, and the acting is overdramatic—which is all the more glaring when viewed against Brown’s ad, where the genuineness of the nonactors’ testimonials shines through. The worst part of this ad, unfortunately, is the candidate himself, who looks depressed or overly serious, when in the context of his appearance he should come across as happy and optimistic. Also, by having Rodriguez— who is likely unknown by the vast majority of voters—only speak the slogan “It’s time” and not identify or distinguish himself, he is easily mistaken for just another member of the chorus. Thus the whole point of the spot—selling Rodriguez—is lost. The ad never even tells us Sergio’s last name!

Expert Opinion: “98 seconds? Really? The only thing to keep you watching is trying to guess what city it is. Good push to social at the end, but by that time they will have lost any undecided voter they convince to watch this.”—Chris Coffey, Tusk Strategies

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