Wasn't planning on writing about this ad, but I'm the middle of a great book, "Winning the Story Wars," and it helped me focus my thoughts about the ad in a way that I thought was helpful: http://youtu.be/qPUxHeIsYLc
I write a lot about gimmicks -- ads that use a trick or device to get attention. When these ads work, the gimmick is on-emotion and in tune with the authentic story of the brand (or candidate). When they don't work, it's often because the gimmick is just spitting on the table -- it's only about getting attention, and the emotional connection to the brand or message is non-existant.
This Cicilline ad uses a different kind of gimmick. It wasn't clear to me until I read this from "Winning the Story Wars":
The Trial of Gimmickry
SIN: Are you trying to make a quick emotional connection by putting all your eggs in the basket of nonsensical humor or high-intensity emotion?
SUCCESS: Or are you building emotional affinity around shared values – layering humor and emotional intensity on top of this solid foundation?
My first thought about the Cicilline ad (really, my second thought, my first thought was that the footage looks kinda bad) was that it didn't earn the emotion it was seeking -- telling stories about Cicilline coming to the aid of Rhode Islanders. There were too many stories, and somehow they don't resonate. Reading the quote from Story Wars, it's obvious to me now, this is another type of gimmick ad, though less obvious the the ones that rely on humor or some conceit. And to put it in the Story Wars framework, this ad is trying for high intensity emotion, but it's not built on any foundation.
Look, I'm sure he helped all those people, and that's great, but that's his job isn't it? What makes these cases special or unique? Is Cicilline the kind of guy who goes out of his way to help people? Or is he an unpopular congressman, trying to bolster his image?
In some ways these ads show disrespect for the viewers. Look, all advertising is manipulative, but hopefully, it offers something more than the manipulation. The two olympic ads I showed yesterday earned their moment, when it gets dusty at the end of the Proctor and Gamble ad, it had worked to get me the viewer there, to get me invested in the story.
This ad, just those an old woman, a vet, a cancer survivor out there, trying to manipulate me without really having to try, it's just going through the motions. They don't invest in their story or characters, so I don't invest my emotions in the spot. I've never thought of this emotional manipulation as a gimmick, but it is, and it fails big time here.