Did Obama win because of his ads? His campaign just won a Titanium & Integrated award at the prestigious Cannes International Advertising Festival. The Obama campaign did almost everything right. It was maybe the best one I'll ever witness. But, the ads? Eh...
Ad Age's ad review columnist Bob Garfield writes in his Cannes round-up about the Obama award, "...the messaging was as creatively barren as it was tactically brilliant. There was no "Morning in America" in this campaign. No "Daisy." No any single thing that stood out. Cannes has just awarded two Grand Prix to a back office. It's like giving the best-picture Oscar to the turn-off-your-cellphones announcement."
Garfield asks, "Shouldn't recognition go to those who exhibit startling ingenuity in messaging -- not technological ingenuity in dispersing the message, but imagination in the message and medium themselves?"
Look, the ads were adequate, but there was nothing about them that stood out. There was nothing imaginative or creative about them. Obama won despite his mediocre ads, not because of it. Most campaigns can't do that.
Ads are less important for a presidential campaign -- no other race gets even close to the same level of exposure. Most campaigns need creative, message-driven ads to break through and create that same inspiration. Political ads that offer "imagination in the message and the medium" can act as creative leverage -- gaining attention that far outweighs the amount of time they air. (Think of the Daisy ad; for all its fame, it only aired once.) When they win voters' hearts, campaigns win voters' minds, and candidates win elections.
Maybe this is a bigger issue than I have time for, but I would even argue that part of the reason people are fed up with politics is the lack of imagination in political messaging. Obama captured something, a feeling -- of hope, of change. It was a different campaign, even if the ads didn't necessarily express that difference; people responded anyway.
In an election, you can always overwhelm your opponent with more money, a solid message and numbing repetition, but wouldn't it be better -- better for politicians, better for campaigns, better for voters, to have a great message and outsmart your opponent with imaginatively delivered content? Not only is that more cost-effective, but it might even change how people feel about their elected leaders.
[My Note: Just saw this intro video for David Plouffe at Cannes, now this is interesting, wish the actual ads had looked like this: