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.

How do you say... M-E-M-E?

What makes a good parody? It has to be true to the original.

It has to twist the original content in a way that's unexpected and/or taps into an exisitng meme about the origianl.

I keep trying to think of a third item (thanks Bob Shrum for teaching me the rule of threes), but I'm outta ideas.


However you break it down, this is brilliant parody. It caputres the tone and feel of cable ads perfectly before twisting it into a sharp satire of the cable companies' business model. Ultimately, I think it's successful because it links into the meme that the cables companies are a**holes who care more about making money than they do about providing a good product.

My wife asked me who was responsible for this video, why did they do it? It's not part of some anti-cable campagin as far as I can tell, but maybe it ought to be because it perfectly crystalizes everything that's wrong with them.

Everything you wanted to know about Subtext (but were too afraid to ask)

When I was at film school, I had a teacher Bill Reilly who taught me to understand the importance of subtext as a director. I grew up in an acting family, so I knew about communicating subtext to actors, as Boris might say, "Love is not 'I love you,' love is chicken." But I had never thought about how the subtext of a scene might relate to how you filmed the scene. If two characters are talking, but the subtext is their separateness, that's a different shot then if the subtext is their desire to be together. Bill taught me that, and it's been among the most important lessons I took away from NYU.

When I first saw this ad, I wondered if it was some Onion satire, it was so sharp and funny, a parody of a political ad. It's like a nested doll, a parody of an ad, that's an ad itself, there's a certain post revisionist meta brilliance to it (deconstruct that phrase for a moment, I have no idea what it means, but I like it). It's an actual ad, running on cable not in battlegrounds, but still airing on TV's across the nation.

I think at face value the ad is pretty funny and does a good job at subverting Romney. Not just the message of he's getting tough on Sesame street, but not wall street, though that's important. No, it somehow make Romney seem small and petty, Big Bird, really? Come on, don't we have bigger issues to take on?

That's the surface, but I think the true value of the ad is the subtext of its message. To me, this ad says Obama gets it. It's funny and a bit whimsical, likable and clever. An ad like this makes Obama seem more real to me, because he's tapping into the current meme of the election. It's politics and its serious, but he's not above being a little silly in the face of the ridiculous.

Maybe put another way, the ad is on-message, but it's also on-emotion, it reflects what some voters are already thinking and amplifies it. That's a powerful tool.

I don't know if they intended that to be the subtext of the ad, again as Boris used to say, "your work is on the screen," so whether they intended it or not, once it's in there, that's purposeful enough.

Subtext is a powerful tool, in my mind more powerful than the surface text, because it operates on the viewer, often unconsciously. This ad works on both levels, but the subtext "he gets it" can also translate to "he's one of us." To my mind that's really more useful in this election than a clever hit on Romney and Wall Street.


So it's been a while

Yes it has. Sorry for the long absence, as usual with the absences this one was due to not really having anything to write about. That's not the same as not seeing a lot of ads, there have been some, including the Rick Perry ad that looks like the Tim Pawlenty ads, that looks like "Armageddon." No, I just felt like I didn't have anything new to say. Today, I'm not sure if I'm adding to the conversation or not, but it's time to get back on the wagon with this ad from the League of Conservation voters: [youtube=]

Why did I chose this ad? I actually think it's clever in the way it takes on Scott Brown's hometown boy done good image, inverting everything from his barn jacket to his pickup truck.  I especially like the first scene where the barn jacket comes off and he's wearing the power suit underneath that's a nice touch.

I also like the oil smear graphics, even though I think they're prettied than they are effective. Frankly, the only CG that sunk in the first time I watched it was the last one, that he got a 0% from the League on his voting record. It makes me wonder if they even needed the first two CG's at all.

Here's what's interesting about this ad, and who I wanted to write about it: while I like the elements of it, I'm not sure how effective an ad it is overall. Somehow the pieces don't all add up, not sure whether it's the tone or the execution, but it feels political rather than organic -- like somehow you can see the puppet master, instead of watching the puppets.

Still, I think this is the right approach to take with Brown, go after his man of the people persona, try to take out his strength, and put him on the defensive. If the public sees him as another politician or a Republican (though Massachusetts isn't as liberal as most people believe), then it takes out the rationale for his candidacy.

It's a tough position, to be running against Washington, when you're in Washington. More about that tomorrow.


The first videos of 2012 Presidential election

So we have the first announced candidate of 2012. Want to guess who?  No not him, not him, not her, not him... It's the one and only President Barak Obama. [youtube=]

This video feels a little like the Time Magazine person of the Year, when the cover was a mirror, the person of the year is... YOU! Yeah, how'd that go over for Time? Ok, that's a little rough. But this video is missing something (and I'm not talking about the President --  interesting, he doesn't make an appearance in the video kicking off his campaign)..., not sure what it is. But it's not exactly, what's the word, compelling.  It's too early for a sense of urgency, I get that, but this feels somewhat somnolent (SAT word of the day, had to look it up).  Maybe they don't want to invoke the passion of 2008 because they're scare it can't measure up, maybe they think it's too early, maybe there's some reason I'm not clever enough to guess, but in any case, there's nothing here that grabs me, I'd be interested to hear what true believers feel.

This video kinda leaves me missing the Tim Pawlenty Michael Bay themed videos which is something I never thought I'd say. Maybe we can split the difference going forward?

Here's an Obama parody video


I liked the "Morning in America" feel to the open and how it seemed like an Obama ad at first, unfortunately, the rest of the video is less parody and more political rhetoric. There are probably a lot of things you can hit Obama for, playing golf, meeting with Paul McCartney and filling in an NCAA bracket seem petty and mean spirited, not funny. And I found it slightly disingenuous to use Tea Party protests as a sign that Obama is dividing us (as opposed to said Tea Partiers and radical governors taking away the rights of workers).  Now, maybe this video wasn't intended for me (it certainly wasn't), but I doubt it would work with someone in the middle, maybe an independent voter who voted for for Obama in 2008, but voter Republican in the last election.

Even the Unicorn (which I liked) at the end felt a little like sour grapes. Is there an argument to be made that Obama sold America a bill of goods and hasn't delivered, without a doubt (I think even some Democrats feel that way). Did this ad make that case? Not even close, it could have used the parody to make an unexpected case, to engage independents and even Democrats before springing it's trap. By going for the low hanging partisan fruit they missed the juicer bits.

Dueling ads in Alaska

[youtube=] I've don't think I've ever seen an endorsement ad quite like this one.  You see dead people's support invoked, but never actually seen them talking on camera.  Politically, this spot may help Murkowski, but it's piss poor production values. This is a US Senator, and Murkowski is running for Senate, it looks like an ad for local office, council member or used car salesman.

Still, it is odd to see a dead guy talking to you, wonder what the conversation around running the ad was like. Still, all that doesn't matter if people can get over the fact that Stevens is dead, that the delivery is stilted, and it looks like it was shot on a home video camera, Stevens name still carries weight in Alaska, and this race is close.


Now, to the guy who has the most to lose from Murkowski's write in.  This video is a parody of the Old Spice ads that are so popular. As a parody it's pretty good, it loses some of the original's cleverness, but the hit on Murkowski is solid (she lost), the bio stuff on Miller gets old.

It's clever and done cheaply, which seems to matter in Alaska (judging by these two ads, well one ad and one video).



Fred Davis Magic

[youtube=] Fred Davis is all over the place.  Here's a web video he did for Christine O'Donnell, unlike her, "I'm you" ad, this one goes straight at Chris Coons. I have to say it's pretty damn entertaining, and they do a great job playing out the concept. They do a good job balancing the political rhetoric with the concept, never straying too far from the parody of a movie trailer to make their points.  That's an important point, too often in concept ads like this one, there's a pressure to get the message in there, to score your points, when really there's something to be said for being patient, sticking to your concept and letting the points come within the context of what you're doing.

Now, we're cooking with Gas

[youtube=] In an earlier post, I wondered aloud why Melancon didn't come hard after Vitter on the prostitution scandal (was there a pun in there somewhere).

Well, this isn't a commercial for air, as it runs 2 minutes, but I think it's pretty darn good. I love the way they parody the reality crime show genre. Also notice here how they stay with the parody the entire way through.  There's little that feels like a political ad, they really stuck with the concept all the way through.  (I wonder if the people really wanted anonymity or if it was just part of the genre they're parodying, in either case I think it works.)

One question is will they have the guts to put this on the air?  I can easily see the promo version of this video, next on "Forgotten Crimes..."

The real question is this too little too late, or will this be the knock out punch to Vitter.

[Editor's Note: According to Talking Points Memo, the two minute piece is the ad, and it's going to run on cable.]

All Fred Davis for Today

I tweeted this earlier today, but it's worth repeating anyone interested in political advertising should read this article about GOP ad "guru" Fred Davis. In some ways Fred Davis embodies exactly the kind of creative, boundary pushing, emotional story telling ads that I advocate for on this blog. In other ways, I think his ads can fall into the gimmick category -- using outrageous for the sake of getting attention, even if that attention is for the outrageousness of the ad rather than the message it is disseminating. In other words, his ads get more attention than they are effective (I'm thinking specifically of his Paris Hilton ad against Obama). I also find him personally annoying, but that could be just the way he's presented in the press (or the persona/story he presents to the press as the "creative" genius, maybe in person he's very nice and interesting).  I do very much appreciate the way he's unapologetic about his ideas and unafraid to make bold choices creatively (even if he should follow Boris' advice to "check himself"). We need more people like that in political ad making.

My only other comment is how well he could perform on smaller budgets?  It's great to make a provocative $40k viral video, but a lot of campaigns don't have that kind of cash. Creativity isn't dependent on money, but money sure helps when it comes to execution.

In honor of Fred Davis, here's a couple of recent examples of his work:


A while back I looked at parodies of the "Daisy Ad," and in general I found the parodies not compelling. This ad is a parody of the classic Reagan ad, "Morning in America":


This ad measure up very well with the original. Striking the same tone to opposite effect. It uses the original as an anchor to twist the message, are you better off now than four years ago. In the original the answer was yes, in this ad the answer is a resounding no.

This ad for Carly Fiorina I was less impressed with:


Visually I found it uninspired, from a message point of view, I found it bewildering. You're going to come after Boxer for being a millionaire while Californians are suffering? Um, that's exactly what Boxer is attacking Fiorina for doing while she was at HP.  Now, I'm all for undercutting the opponent's argument, political aikido and all, but I just don't find Fiorina's claim credible.  Or put another way, I find the attack on her time as CEO of HP more credible, while this attack on Boxer leaves me with a shrug.  Though I should say, I really do like the music..., I wonder how much it cost?

Part of the art of political advertising is knowing when to go for a homerun and when a single is all you need.

Maybe it's me

A friend sent me this one, with the note, "Best political ad of the year..." [youtube=]

Watching a video like this, I got to wonder is it just me, maybe I'm lacking creativity and vision.  But I just don't get it.

On one hand, wow, they really went for it.  You got to appreciate the fact they aren't going with vanilla. They sure went through what seems like a lot of effort -- complete with dressing their candidate up like young Terri Garr. There's of art direction going on to parody a 35 year old movie. And, while I've talked about other ads/videos not trusting their concept, these guys trust theirs all the way.

The section with the violin, to quote Boris, "Guys, this is movie." That part works, it drives home the message (though it ends with "Ahmadinejad, he's my boyfriend," and while that's accurate to the parody, seems way over the top here).

Still, at the end of the day, this video feels like a mess to me.  Another film school quote, "If you notice the boom mic in the shot, then the scene isn't working." Well, I noticed the shoddy camera work.  The choice of "Young Frankenstein" is odd, and even odder is dressing your candidate up like a gothic heroine, but alright.  In the end, there's 10 seconds of good material, but the rest leaves me searching for the meaning. What's the deal with Frankenstein and Iran?  I'm not sure what the metaphor is supposed to be? What is Harman creating?

At the end of the day, this seems like an elaborate gimmick. In other words, it a concept driving message, not a message driving a concept.  It may get Mattie Fein attention, but I wonder what that attention is, will people see the production values and see her as serious?  Will the attacks stick?

I admire their gusto and style, but question their judgement.  Maybe it's just me though.

Quayle Parodies

An ad and a link: [youtube=]

Here's the link.

Both are amusing, but not laugh out loud funny. I think they zero in on the arrogance and over the top quality of the original ad, you know the stuff that pissed me off about it. It had that Saturday Night Live quality to begin with, was a little too self serious, a little too dark, wonder how many more of these we'll see?

On a lighter note

[youtube=] A while back I posted a video parody of a new cast.  I talked a little about cliche, genre, and the the uses and limits of shorthand.  This parody of a political ad obviously makes good use of that shorthand.

As you watch the political ads roll out of the meat grinders this political season, look for those cliches, and think how would you have done it differently?  How could you surprise your audience?  How could you use their expectaions to your advantage?

Still, this is pretty funny.

There's over the top and then there's over the top

Tax day is here.  A day when conservatives can rail against paying their hard earned money to the government for wasteful programs like public schools, roads, a military, police and fire departments. [youtube=]

In honor of April 15th, a conservative group railing against taxes.  Now Ken Buck is in a Republican primary against conservative Jane Norton. So maybe this spot is aimed for a very angry conservative base, still I can't help but feel they could have appealed to that base, and to more independent/less angry Republican primary voters. From the graphics to the music to the voice talent to the writing ("Washington loves Tax Day, but despise conservative leaders....).  It's just too much, and it risks getting

Compare that spot with this web video, which also over the top:


Copyright violations aside, this is pretty funny and great parody.  Often when I watch these longer videos (over a minute) I get bored pretty fast, this one I watched through to the end. Now that says something about my attention span and the quality of most web videos.

Look it even made "Mars Attacks!" look funny, that's an accomplishment in itself.

The difference between this video and the first spot is that the first one is deadly serious, this one has its tongue firmly planted in cheek.  Its tone is over the top, but its message is not.  Even though its message is loud and clear, its not being shouted at you.

In that way it's able to deliver it's message without a viewer turning it out.

A little digression

Not on my planned posts for the week, but I came across this parody of the Google Ad: [youtube=]

This ad might be the first political parody of the ad, but it won't be the last.  I've said before it's hard for me to seperate the message from the execution in ads like these.  I try my best, and I hope I'm able to point to good executions even if I disagree with the message (see my post on the Inhofe ad which I thought was brilliant, even though he seems like a real SOB).

So the Google ad is in the news, and it makes sense to parody it for politics, riding on the coattails of something that's already in the public consciousness.  I can't decide if the "Boondoggle" is cute or too cute, but alright let's agree that it works..., more or less.

My issue with the ad, and the reason I think it's not good parody, is they miss the essence of the Google ad -- they steal the form in terms of the "look" of the ad, but they forgot the story part of the form. The google ad tells a story, it engages the viewer in that story, it resonates emotionally,  and it accomplishes this simply and elegantly.  This commercial is just random attacks on Democrats and their policies, jumping around from health care to some vague charge of waste or influence.  There's nothing holding the ad together, it's like a flaky pastry that falls apart in your hands when you try to take a bite.

I frankly got bored half way through, and I would question if the ad would be effective on anyone but people who are already inclined to believe it.

What if they tried to tell a story?  Maybe it's a person looking for work, they could do some of they same things, show the unemployment rate, the "ineffectualness" of the stimulus, etc. They would have to leave out some of the more specific attacks, but maybe not, but if they do it's not a bad thing.  Emotional connection and resonance are far more important then any specific attack in my opinion. If they told that story, I think this ad would hit and not just with true believers, but with people who maybe are in the middle, people who would feel their anger and frustration, their fear and worry reflected back at them.  If they told that story with this parody, well then they'd be cooking with gas.

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.