It's hard to be funny... let's be angry instead. You know this video (and let's be clear it's 45 seconds long so it's not running on TV) has the potential to be really good. But I think it misses the mark. Why? Because I think it's way off-emotion.

The ObamaCarenado is trendy for sure, but instead of campy parody they go way over the top with fear and anger. Now, I will say I really liked the end, but in general, this video just feels really angry to me, whatever humor it may have is lost in that anger. Now that may play well to the base, but I don't think it works so well with independent voters.

Good humor and good parody are hard. The video takes the easy way out, trying for neither and I think it accomplishes less because of it. Had they really bought into the Sharknado what could they have accomplished? Instead it just a macguffin to be angry. I guess that's one way to go, but the creators of Sharknado have nothing to worry about.

Paint by Numbers

I remember an interview way back before Beverly Hills Cop 2 came out. Eddie Murphy was promoting his new movie, and he said something like, "People loved the first movie, so we took everything they liked in the first movie, and made it bigger in the second one." Now, I was pretty young, but I remember thinking at the time that seems to miss the point. You can't just paint by numbers, we need a bigger explosion here, we need this & that, and expect a movie to be better. [youtube=]

I feel the same way about this ad. In theory it has the right approach, it's trying to appeal to emotion with shots of kids and families, trying to engage our outrage, but the whole spot is just... I don't know, flat. It's soulless.

It's not that script is so bad or the images stink, it's just doesn't add up to a good spot or even mediocre spot. Now, the voice over doesn't help at all, the narrator sounds like she's on ambient. The spot has no energy or hook, there's nothing memorable about it.

That leads me to another point, to call the bill Affordable Health Care Act instead of health care reform is an interesting choice. On one hand I applaud the effort to embrace a new frame, Health Care Reform has been branded Obama Care with all it's death panels and job killing effects. On the other hand, even though I know they're talking about Health Care Reform, I find the ad confusing, I don't really know what they're talking about. Maybe I don't connect it in my mind to my support of Health Care Reform, it almost feels like a whole new issue.

This ad is one of those rare birds that's actually worse than the sum of it's parts. Like Eddie Murphy learned, it's not enough to have bigger explosions and expect your movie to be better, you actually need something authentic and fresh to engage an audience.

True to yourself

[youtube=] With politicians (Democrats) running away from Health Care Reform like it was the plague, Russ Feingold embraces the best (most popular) elements of the health care plan, and attacks his opponent admonishing him "hands off my health care."

While I think the ad is not a particularly good execution -- I never like scripting real people, it can be hard for them to pull off the lines, and I'm not sure they do here.  I think it's the right play.  Getting back to my last post, you have to be true to your values and who you are.  Feingold is doing that, and pushing back on his opponent at the same time, if he's got any shot of winning this race, that's the best strategy.

Using real people is smart because it's not just politicians who appreciate health care reform.  Scripting the people takes some of that power away from the message, they're a little stiff and they're  indicating (as my mom used to say), but it works well enough I suppose, and it's a bold play.

It's cute

[youtube=] I remember in college, women hated to be called cute.  Cute is alright, cute  is non-threatening, cute is mildly interesting, but it's not as good as hot or beautiful or gorgeous.

Here's a pretty cute ad summarizing the benefits of the recent health care bill. It's  better than a straight forward list, but not really as compelling as it could be.


The message is the same in this ad, but it can't quite even meet the cute bar.  It's kinda confusing, the entire time I kept wondering why we were watching a marathon.  I like when images counterpoint the words or graphics, but this was just distracting.  It's a really long thirty seconds to get to the payoff of the finish-line message. Never a good sign when you have to explain the metaphor to folks.

Best Health Care Ad EVER!

[youtube=] At film school they always tried to teach us "show, don't tell."

Case and point: This ad.  It does a lovely job of storytelling, using details, the procedure of moving, and mystery -- what's the punchline of the ad going to be, where's this going.

They don't try to cram a minute's worth of message at you, instead they give you 45 seconds of a story, a compelling one at that, then five seconds of message (of course, you could argue the story is part of the message, which is true, but misses the point somewhat).

If I had to quibble it would be with the fact that the message is so tepid after such a big build up.  Yes, "No one should lose everything because the are denied health coverage," is great, but the second card, "Tell your senators to support consensus health care reform," is so vague as to be meaningless.  I feel like they had me in the palm of their hand, but I'm not clear what they want from me.  Maybe that's more than a quibble.  I also might have put those cards up over a blurred scene of the couple interacting in the background.

Still, this ad is the best one I've seen on health care, and I think well after the debate is over and a bill is passed (or not), I'll probably remember it.  It's smart and emotional without being melodramatic, and it delivers it's message about losing everything very elegantly, without ever tipping it's hand too overtly (this is a health care ad, watch now, listen now).


The Message and the messenger

I try to keep my politics out of how I view an ad, and while I know that's not really possible (our unconscious brains are constantly providing commentary on the world in the form of "feelings" that bubble up into consciousness), I at least try not to judge an ad on where its message falls on the political spectrum. [youtube=]

With this ad though it's really tough.  Not sure why, but I hate this ad.  It's an obvious parody of the Apple Mac/PC ads, but it's a really bad parody.  It has none of the wit or whimsy that makes those ads so clever and cutting. In the original ads, the PC guy is likable, here m the Government run health care plan guy is especially annoying, and even the girl is annoying.  I don't really find either of them likable at all. The acting is pretty weak too.

(Here's a tip about actors, always find people who can act first, then worry about if they "look" the part.  I've seem more bad casting because someone who can't act is given a part because they look like

But I worry, is it the message of the ad that rubs me the wrong way, or the messenger, the ad itself?  Am I just coming up with a rationale to make sense of my feeling of hate?

I don't know (and probably can't know without years of therapy), but bad execution really rubs me the wrong way, and this ad feels like they ripped off the form without really having an understanding of how it worked.  It has the rhythm of the original, the look (though it's a pretty weak green screen floor), but it's a little like listening to a schizophrenic talk, he uses real words, but put together they're gibberish.

And on top of that it ends so abruptly.

Heather Graham & Health Care.

[youtube=] I was on a plane today, and I watched the movie "The Hangover." It was pretty good, amusing enough to keep me distracted (and who doesn't like a good tiger in a car routine).  It's a good cast, and I was impressed with Heather Graham in a bit part.  It reminded me what I liked about her so many years ago in the brilliant "Boogie Nights." (Thinking of that movie, PT Anderson must be a great director, Graham, Burt Reynolds, Mark Wallberg & Julianne Moore all gave the best performances of their careers.)

I don't know if Graham is a good actress, but she has a strong quality: She's innocent and sexy, charming and quirky.

When I landed I saw this new Move ad staring... Heather Graham.  Ha sweet coincidence.

Unlike the American's United for Healthcare which compared the health care industry with baseball, and ultimately didn't make any sense, this ad actually makes the point quite well.  It doesn't need to mention the legal restrictions to competition either.

Using Heather Graham is a bit of a MacGuffin in that it ultimately isn't important who represents the public option, but it sure ads attention.

My only gripe with the ad would be the bibs on the front of each of the actors to represent who they're supposed to be.  It works, but it's not the most elegant solution, also it's not shot as well as it could have been.  The closeup of the dropped burger is nice, but I wanted more.

Still, that's an artistic quibble. As a message delivery device, this ad is very effective.


I just finished writing about Daggett and his need to change the tone of his ads, and I saw a new health care ad this morning, and thought it was a good opportunity to write more generally about tone. Maybe I should start with I read about this ad this morning first.  From the National Journal's Morning Wake-up e-mail: "Americans United for Change is up with a TV ad on DC cable, arguing insurance execs. "are scared of competition..."  Wow, I thought that sounds like a good message, scared of competition, that could work.

Then I watched the ad:


Um, uh.  That's disappointing, right?  I tried to think about why it was so disappointing and it comes down to tone.

Baseball and insurance companies? Huh?  Maybe the makers of the ad thought they'd hook me with a curious question, instead, it only seemed to minimize their story. Baseball, why are we dragging baseball into this?  It's confusing and dumb.  It's too cute and not funny enough to be funny.    The Blacksox scandal? What are they talking about.  And the images?  Sigh....

They have a real message to drive home here, insurance companies are scared of competition from the government. Why are they so scared?  If they're doing such a great job (and the government is going to do such a crappy job so goes their allies comments), why should they care about a public option?  They should mop the floor with those guys.

Tone is such a subtle thing it helps us to frame the story the ad is trying to tell.  It's something viewers pick up on from the sound of the narrator, the music, the images, it's implied rather then spoken.  The baseball music, the flat images don't imply the seriousness of the message.  Now you can contrast the tone with the message (also called being ironic), a serious message can be delivered in a comedic tone and when done well, it can be very effective.  But being funny is hard, just ask Steve Martin, it takes work.

Someone thought this was a good idea, but to me it looks like an ad that never worked on the script, and if it doesn't work on the page, it's unlikely it'll work on the screen.

Like Chris Daggett, who I talked about earlier, it's a good message ruined by the poor choice of tone.

P.S. I apologize for any grammatical errors, my copy editor (my wife) is away for a couple weeks.  Have I ever mentioned that I had to take remedial English in both High School and College?


[youtube=] Wow. They get points for trying, I guess. I mean I appreciate that they tried a conceptual script instead of the usual blah, blah, blah. But when you just take a narrator script and put it into an actor in a concept (in this case a "political consultant" talking to his candidate after losing), it just doesn't work. If you're going to go with the concept you got to go all the way, that's not close to how real people speak, even political consultants.

On top of that, either this poor actor got bad direction or he's not a good actor, but in any case, he seemed as phony as the dialogue.

On top of all that, it looks like a public access shoot, with all the good (and cheap) formats of video they have out there these days, why did they decide to shoot this one?

Do they really think this is going to win the day?

Bad acting, bad dialogue, and bad looking make for a bad execution, and I don't have to guess, I know that makes for bad politics.

The lesson of Vietnam and a health care ad

[youtube=] There's a story I've read in a couple of different places that goes something like this:

After the Vietnam War, an American Colonel sat down with his North Vietnamese counterpart. The American in a fit of pride said the United States had never been beaten on the battlefield. The Vietnamese General nodded and answered calmly, "That is true. It is also irrelevant." (Quoted from "The Sling and the Stone: On War in the 21st Century")

I can't help but think about that lesson when watching this ad: It's not winning battles that counts it's winning the war. Ads are like battles sometimes, you can win the battle of exchanges, but maybe it takes you off your central message or weakens you in some way or just takes time and energy away from winning the war.

I think this is a pretty good ad for it's type, and one I'm not usually inclined to like. The whole idea of corporate greed, just doesn't play well with me, it usually feels petty -- unless you can link it in a real way to an issue or make it mean something. I think they do that by personalizing it with Nataline's story -- "[she] only needed one."

That's a good line, and gosh it makes me mad at those insurance companies, and I don't like them..., wait, I didn't really trust or like them before this ad. That's kind of the point, the ad does make me dislike the insurance companies more, but I'm not sure it makes me more inclined to support health care reform.

If the health care reform side keeps winning battles like this, it won't be long before it loses the war completely.

Too little too late?

[youtube=] If it wasn't for Health Care, I wouldn't have much to write about these days.

Looks like the pro-health care side is finally fighting back, trying to define what reform means for folks. That's pretty important especially since the anti reform gang has the easier job of ginning up fear of change and the unknown.

The ad's pretty simple, and it goes to my point in the previous post, sometimes it's ok for the ad to get out of the way of the message.

That's very much the case here. Of course, this ad has a $12 million buy behind it, which takes a simple ad pretty far. That's a lot of repetition.

I have two questions: First, did this effort come too late. There's been a lot of talk and debate, an ad like this should have come at the opening of the effort, not in the middle/end. Is it too late? Are people too set in their views?

Secondly, you're spending $12 million on your buy, and you make a spot that looks like stock photos (which it probably is)? Look they chose good shots, but couldn't you kick in $50k for a shoot, get some cool footage?

How much more effective would that $12 million be if they really tried to make an emotional connection as well.

I hate it when they're right

[youtube=] Sometimes it's hard for me to separate the message from the messenger. It may be hard to tell, but I actually care about the issues above and beyond the execution. I consider myself a progressive, I actually want Health Care to pass, for example.

So sometimes it's hard for me to see value in the ads the other side puts up. Often it's because they stink, are just too harsh or too mean. Sometimes it's because the message goes against my values and principles. I try to separate the form from the function, but I'm only human.

This ad from the National Republican Trust Pac is pretty good, I think. At least it's different from the usual fear-spreading, bomb-lobbing ads we see from the right.

It's a minute long, the beginning is something closer to a David Lynch movie than a political ad -- in other words, it's abstract and different. There's no v/o for those first thirty seconds, it gets my attention and stresses me out, which is what it's supposed to do.

The whistle sound effect half way through is a little off-putting or feels out of context somehow. But when the voice over starts, I think it's well written, "Stop, time-out, there is no more money.... Let's take a breath, fix our economy first." I think that sentiment is actually a pretty compelling message, and gets the right away from accusations that killing health care is politically motivated.

One advantage to a :60 spot is that you can divide things up like that. This is almost two spots in one, the abstract images creating anxiety and the calm voice telling us to slow down, reassuring us but cautioning us too.

If the right can successfully adopt this message around health care, then I worry about its chances of passing. I hate it when they get it right.

Health Care ads everywhere and no reform this month

[youtube=] I'm jet lagged and tired, so maybe I'm not watching this ad with all pistons firing.

In general, I think there are some interesting elements to the ad (mostly the visuals), and some frankly kinda weak elements, that in the end undermine its message.

Much like the "Fighter" ad I reviewed, this ad tells a story that resonates with the larger debate. Go back and watch that one. Which one do you connect to more?

I think it's the earlier "Fighter" ad.

I really like the shots in this ad, the portrait of the owner, the portrait of him holding the picture with his family. (I did something similar in an ad once and the ad got skewered on Jon Stewart for it.) The line, "I pray my kids don't get sick" is a powerful reminder of the dilemma facing too many families, and one that brings us into this man's shoes, if only for a second.

I say only a second because then the ad launches into a policy litany. Again, maybe I'm too tired to really focus, but I can't remember any of the details of it. I do remember suddenly not caring as much as I did just a moment before.

It's a common mistake political ads make, the appeal to reason. Giving the facts, instead of telling the story.

The other element that didn't work in this spot is also something I discussed in the "Fighter" review. Unlike the "Fighter" ad, where they keep the subject reading to camera off camera, she just does the voice over, in this ad they have the subject reading off of a teleprompter to camera. While he's able to deliver most of the lines alright (some are a little stiff), his eyes never move. (Do they blink at all?) It just doesn't feel relaxed or honest.

In addition, I always find it odd when regular people start talking about policy or how much Senator Ben Nelson has gotten from the insurance industry in an ad; it almost never rings true.

Why didn't they just interview the guy? Get real answers, in his real voice? If Errol Morris can get Robert McNamara to say the Vietnam War was a mistake, then I'm not sure why they couldn't interview Mike Snider, get him to talk honestly and openly about health care, and put the facts on the screen as CG?

Or do what they did the "Fighter" ad: just use b-roll of the guy, and not show him talking.

I guess it comes down to this: When the ad is personal, it works, when it's not, it's just noise. Unfortunately, it ends up being about 40 seconds of noise.

Can't get enough of those health care ads

Please excuse the typos and grammar -- my copy editor (my wife Nora) is on vacation. Here's another health care ad by Move On:


You know, I like the fact that they're trying -- a good metaphor is a great way to connect to a complex issue. That said, trying is about all I like about the ad. Maybe I'm over thinking this thing, but it's really piss poor execution. The football through the air looks kind of silly, the music is overdone, and while I like the fact that they tried a metaphor, I'm not sure what the metaphor means or why I should care. Is it really a powerful metaphor? A political football? What's at stake with a football in the air? Besides the metaphor, it's kind of your standard political presentation.

Compare that metaphor with this one on health care:


The ad, produced by Americans United for Change, uses the symbol of a snail. What's more the tone, the voice over and the music match with the concept.

Look, the ad's not perfect, but it really sells almost the same argument in a much more effective way. You get the stakes, it mocks Republican's delay tactics without being mean or too insider. We've been talking about health care for years, go slower? We've been moving at a snail's pace. The only reason to go slower is to kill it. Makes sense, connects. Got it.

Metaphors are good, but you got to pick the right one to make them work.

Another Health Care Ad

Just yesterday I reviewed a health care ad, and it seems like they're popping up all over the place now. I dubbed the ad yesterday, "Illness," the best one I had seen to date (even though I graded it an F). This one from Health Care for America Now, "Fighter," is pretty good and a lot more authentic.


It's simple and clean, and it tells a story. I like that they don't feel the need to make the woman read to camera. Her voice over might be a little flat but because you can't see her, I think it works.

It's still her voice, telling her story, but it's more compelling using b-roll of her and the neighborhood, instead of her looking straight into camera. Reading into camera is tough for professionals to do and look good, if you're not experienced with it, it looks awkward and less authentic.

Instead we feel like you know her better, we see her in her environment, and her read works. The ad feels honest and truthful.

I love the line at the end, "fine, I'll take you both on." It's compelling and determined -- it's inspiring. They've created a vicarious connection between the woman in the ad and the audience -- I feel like a fighter after watching it.

I wish they could have figured out a better end than the typical tell Congressman Cantor, blah, blah. Maybe just come up with the end card sans the "Tell Congressman Cantor" audio.

The goal of the ad is small, to put some pressure on Cantor and whoever else is targeted. But I think it's pretty darn effective. Good job.

Review: Health Care for America Now "What if"

[youtube=] I didn't plan a review today. I was thinking of some more esoteric posts about ad-making, but then I saw these ads. Health care has been in the news a lot lately, and I've been thinking, what's been so hard about getting this passed? I think that when it's polled, 60% of Americans are in favor of health care reform. So what's the problem?

As I thought about it, I realized the problem is one of definitions. What does health care reform mean? Insuring the uninsured? Lowering what we pay? Streamlining the system? Giving patients better access and better care? Taking on insurance companies? I think the answer is yes. And that's the problem. It's an issue that means different things to different people, so talking about "health care reform" in general doesn't translate into support in the specific. With so many big money interests at stake, it's no wonder that it's been so hard to move this issue forward.

Form (on a scale A-F): C

Standard political ad stuff. Looking at the ad a second time, is that the best they could for a doctor's office? Should I even worry about that?

There was a saying around film school, "If they're noticing the boom in the shot, it doesn't matter that it's there. It means you've lost the audience." Translated, that means: If the spot was working, I wouldn't have time to wonder about the doctor's office, I'd be too engrossed with the story, the message, my own emotions to care or notice.

Is this the best they could do? Its just kinda generic. The music, the visuals -- nothing really stands out. Nothing get my attention; there's no sugar coating to get me to care, to get me to listen. The copy technique of "what if," is widely used, but feels like a gimmick here; it doesn't really connect with the rest of the ad.

Function (on a scale A-F): C

Going to my earlier point, this ad does an adequate job of breaking down the issues around health care reform -- keep your coverage, change plans, public option, lower costs, keep insurance companies honest. Got it. Those elements are really important to transforming that general support for reform into concrete support for this reform.

But will I remember it? Ben Smith of Politico says in his post that the ad is "pressing the public option by casting it as a way to stick it to greedy insurance executives." Maybe I'm tired, maybe I'm too cynical and jaded, but does this feel like sticking to greedy insurance executives? I've been angry. I've felt outrage (watch the classic documentaries "Roger & Me" or "Harlan County, USA" to get a taste of outrage), and frankly, this ad doesn't make me feel angry or outraged. Do you? Let me know. Post a comment.

Now, some of that is due to a "heard it all before effect". We've heard all about how evil insurance companies are, we've already incorporated it into our data banks, this isn't anything new. It just doesn't get us aroused in the same way it would hearing it for the first time.

But of a lot of the empty feeling comes from the ad itself. Will a viewer's attention even make it to that end part, the important part, to soak in that message?

Final Grade (on a scale A-F): C

Standard stuff, makes some important points, but it really doesn't do anything to help it stick. With enough numbing repetition the message gets through. Maybe. But this is going to be a crowded battlefield, the other side is likely to throw some smoke bombs of their own to confuse the issue (big government health care, less choice and so on), so the fight for the hearts and minds of voters is on. It's attrition warfare, army on army, head to head, and that's not the kind of fight you want.

Where's the emotion? There's enough around this issue to be outraged over. Is this outrage? If so, it's so generic, so general, there's no connection. Is it trying to make a rational argument (which would be really nice if people were actually rational)? This ad just kinda sits there, there's no soul, no feeling behind it, its paint by numbers and ultimately empty. Whether that's by design or poor execution I'm not sure, but the result is the same.

Review: Community Change Healthcare

[youtube=] We're going to be seeing a lot of health care ads as the battle to finally pass comprehensive health care for all Americans heats up.   I usually like to find something good to say about a video.

The Good

So here goes:  This video is provocative, and I'll give it points for at least trying to do something to get attention.  The shot of the stethoscope on the wallet is memorable, and in the right context could become a symbolic foundation for the push to pass universal coverage.

Unfortunately, that's all the positive I can find.  Health care is an important issue in the lives of many Americans -- especially those without coverage.  This video seems to trivialize it, confusing shock value for emotional resonance.  As a concept it fails the critical test in that it is disconnected from the core message they're trying to convey.

The Bad

In addition, it's poorly executed.  I understand stretched budgets, and the fact is that a good compelling story should overcome any technical or execution deficiencies.  These days there are plenty of good-looking cheap formats that could have been used; I think my ZI-6 shoots better video than we see here.  A short video doesn't excuse poor acting. This is seduction, really? Seriously?  Maybe it's a moot point, but again if you're going to go in this direction, you better do a damn better job.

The message is clear: insurance companies getting in between you and your doctor. Pretty simple. But there's no connection, no emotion by the point you get to that point.  Again, if you had created some emotion, gotten the audience to invest in the story you were telling at the start, when you get to the stethoscope on wallet shot, that could have been a powerful kick in the teeth, with almost no additional commentary needed... Instead the shot goes wasted.

Final Grade:

Form (on a scale A-F): F

From concept to execution, this is a mess.  It's a gimmick that doesn't help drive its message, so it becomes a bad gimmick, badly done.

Function: (on a scale A-F): D

Its message is clear at least, and the shot of the wallet does make a statement. But I'm not sure if anyone would stick around for it or even care about it when we got there.

Final Grade: (on a scale A-F): D-

I would have given this video an F because it really does fail to achieve anything of substance, but the wallet shot redeems somewhat. But a bad execution of a bad concept is especially harmful on an issue as important as this one.  All it does it set the cause back.