Ad Watch

Written by Morgan Pehme on . Posted in AdWatch, Campaigns/Elections.


Candidate: Bill Owens

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

Length: 2 minutes, 16 seconds

Description: Too long to run on television, this video is a Web-only spot designed to reintroduce the candidate, who despite being the incumbent has only served 1 1/2 terms in office and now must run in a redrawn district.

Pros: The folksy, simple tone of this ad seems well suited for its target audience. The bio info in the beginning provides a quick and compelling introduction to the candidate and establishes an intimacy with him. The sequence at the end where Representative Owens is with constituents shows the candidate looking genuinely engaged and knowledgeable about the area’s local businesses.

Cons: This ad tries to convey a lot of detailed information in a relatively short period of time. In principle providing specifics is an effective tool of persuasion; if you can’t keep the audience’s attention, however, all the statistics and issue stances come across like clutter, as in this case. The canned music looping in the background only emphasizes the ad’s struggle to maintain its energy, and on several occasions gives the impression that the video is going to end—and then it doesn’t, always an off-putting feeling for the viewer. There should have been at least one music change to inject the ad with the sense that it is reaching a climax. Lastly, the placement of the candidate is unfortunate. The black background, clumsily lit with what looks like grey splotches, provides a drab backdrop for the candidate and isolates him drearily in the frame. This would be an adequate backdrop were we to see it less often, but so many shots return to it that it really stands out negatively in contrast with the lush exterior shots of the North Country.

Expert Opinion: “This is more of a bio video than an ad. It is over two minutes long, and does not offer a single, strong message; in fact, it offers several themes that seem to be taken from a template or checklist. For a Web video of this length, especially from an incumbent, I expect a lot more.” —Susan Del Percio, founder of Susan Del Percio Strategies


Candidate: Nan Hayworth

Produced by: Jamestown Associates (Princeton, N.J.)

Length: 30 seconds

Description: This ad is a standard bio spot introducing Rep. Nan Hayworth to the new voters of her redrawn district and reminding her current constituents who she is and why she first ran for office in 2010.

Pros: This ad demonstrates that less can be more, getting right practically everything that Bill Owens’ Web video gets wrong. Its narrative structure, minus the languorous middle section of Owens’ ad, is largely the same as Owens’ and yet it conveys a lot more emotion and energy in less than a quarter of the time. It also not-so-subtly draws a strong contrast between Representative Hayworth and her opponent, Sean Patrick Maloney—without making the error of mentioning him by name—by playing the congresswoman up as a proud mother, in contrast with Maloney, who is openly gay with no children, and by emphasizing her deep roots in the district versus Maloney, who has been cast as a carpetbagger.

Cons: What this ad sets out to do it accomplishes expertly. Perhaps one valid criticism of the spot is that its narrative structure is pretty boilerplate, so it is less likely to stand out in the memory of its viewers, who are all but certain to see many ads similar to this one between now and November.

Expert Opinion: “A solid intro piece with a couple of things that bug me that I’ll get to in a second. But Nan is an incumbent. Shouldn’t people know who she is already? Why isn’t she running on her record? Nits: the black-and-white steel mill made me think that Nan was a million years old; the excessive neck-nuzzling with her family was a little much; and the voice-over is a little heavy/dramatic for my taste. And, oh, a nod to “preserving Medicare”? Really? She’s going to need more inoculation than that against the inevitable Maloney and DCCC attacks on Hayworth’s support for the Ryan budget plan.” —Alex Navarro-McKay, Managing Director, BerlinRosen


Candidate: Mark Grisanti

Produced by: Cookfair Media (Syracuse, N.Y.)

Length: 30 seconds

Description: In the same genre as the other two ads analyzed in this issue, State Senator Grisanti’s reintroduction ad gets viewers up to speed on what he has accomplished over his first two years in Albany.

Pros: This ad fits into the “sickness to cure” subgenre of political commercials. As is customary, it begins with a gravely serious-sounding narrator identifying a problem—in this case, Albany—illustrated by a menacing black-and-white photo. These dark images then swiftly give way to cheery, triumphant music and bright, colorful shots of the candidate while the word “change” is both spoken by the narrator and shown on screen in a newspaper clipping.

Cons: The two shots used to illustrate Grisanti’s passage of UB 2020 both look like stock footage and don’t establish a genuine connection with the district the way that the images of Representative Owens touring local businesses do in his ad. The last shot of Grisanti could be better too; it is not terrible, but he appears low-energy, and that is certainly not the final impression with which the viewer should be left. The two prior images of Grisanti, where he is listening to a senior citizen and walking alongside a constituent, cast the senator in a better light.

Expert Opinion: “This is a classic bio-and-accomplishments ad designed to reintroduce the candidate to voters. It frames the race using one of the most compelling arguments any incumbent on either side of the aisle has right now—tying themselves to the last two years of change, progress and results in Albany, in stark contrast to the gridlock and corruption of the past—while pivoting quickly to the issues that resonate with Western New York voters: jobs, the economy and taxes. The ad reminds Republican primary voters that Grisanti gets results, while avoiding the elephant in the room (his same-sex marriage vote) in this crowded upstate race.” —Nicole Gill, Senior Associate, SKDKnickerbocker


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