Tuesday, January 25, 2005

If She Were Still Alive with a Lilt in Her Voice and a Goose in Her Step, Would Leni Riefenstahl be Working for Bush? (Pause) Just Yanking Your Chain

Charlie Cook's weekly political email showed up today, and he speculates that the decline in the quality of political ads for TV is related to the fact that the path to a career in such ad-making is no longer by first learning the medium and then learning the "content" end, the politics.

What has happened is that few current media consultants have any training in filmmaking. They are campaign operatives who have moved into the world of producing television commercials. While there is nothing inherently wrong with that, as they do know politics and have invaluable experience, the craft of storytelling is missing. It would be just as big a mistake for a campaign to go out and hire a documentary filmmaker with little knowledge of or experience in politics. But rarely do I see those two sets of skills co-exist in a single media consultant or even a firm, with one partner from each discipline.

He says his dismissal of contemporary political advertising on TV isn't just a qualitative judgment; it's a quantitative judgment. He doesn't think TV political ads have that much effect because they are so generic, so empty.

I don't know. I do know that I think the MoveOn PAC ads that flowed into that site last year -- many produced I assume, by passionate film and video types whose technical expertise was the chicken and their political passion the egg -- seemed well made. Lots of gutsy ads and gutsy admakers seem there for the taking. Maybe it's just timid politicians who want bland ads because they have decided that bland wins -- if you have your dirty tricks working, your judges disenfranchising voters, your push polls going and so on and so on. Maybe ads are now just white noise to drown out your opponent's white noise while the real work goes on elsewhere.

I'm clearly baiting my Republican friends in the preceding sentences. But I do wonder if Cook is correct across the board? Have Democrat candidates in particular become too hesitant to create funny vivid vicious ads? Are we playing not to lose and losing anyway. It's 4th and goal, and we are on the two-yard line. We're behind by a couple touches, and it's the fourth quarter. Go for it! Go for it! Go for it!

I say if were are going to lose, let's leave some teeth, hair and eyeballs spread over the roadway.


Anonymous said...

Political commercials are not good because they're not supposed to be. They are focused grouped to death to start with. Beyond that, they are not meant to convert great numbers at a stroke. Politicians are cautious people, afraid to offend, deliberately bland in their dealings with the public, which they perceive to be dangerous. Most congressmen are in safe districts, so there is no incentive to rile up voters. Bring too many voters to the polls and surprising things can happen. Politicians don't like surprises. They're incrementalists, content to nibble at the margins. Good as the Move-On commericals may have been, they were hit and miss. Hit the blue states, missed the red -- preening star turns for the most part, preachments to the choir. Negative advertising works until it doesn't. Few know where the line is, which is why politics are so poll driven. They give a basis for guessing and the consultants make sure the politicians sign off on what the data indicates should be hit before the oh-so-careful commercials are made. Hard as it is to stomach, Democrats need to figure out how to appeal to the red states. Fine tuning the presentation isn't going to do it. Some baggage will have to be thrown overboard.

....J.Michael Robertson said...

You are correct, sir. Most members of Congress are in safe districts. Why then don't more of their opponents roll the dice? If a "red state" Demo wants to divorce him/herself from the national party, why not do a commercial where Judge Roy Brown pronounces the divorce? of course, my incendiary comments are based on the idea that Cook knows what he's talking about when he suggests these bland empty ads don't work. Maybe they work like Chinese water torture. Alberto Gonsalez would know. About the torture.

Anonymous said...

A campaign against an entrenched incumbent in a safe district costs beaucoup bucks. A Judge Roy Bean-style campaign would be like going into a casino, putting a million bucks down and rolling the dice. Takes stronger nerves than most politicos have. Might work in a situation where an independent panel redraws district lines so both parties have a shot. Isn't your governor talking about that?

....J.Michael Robertson said...

I think some pols seem to be going for the "viable loss" in what is seen to be an unwinnable campaign. They do better than some predicted; therefore, they are "viable" for some future, more attractive race. I like John Edwards, but he did not sparkle in debate against the mummy. Not clear to me how effective he was generally in the campaign because the focus was elsewhere.

Anonymous said...

Viable loss is acceptable in the parliamentary form of government. Here you're merely branded as a loser.

....J.Michael Robertson said...

Oh not so. Erskine Bowles comes to mind, though he lost again. Christine Todd Whitman lost closely to Bradley, I think. It may not be the preferable way to go, but if you run one good race, in certain contexts you get a second look. Not the presidential, I would agree. In recent years that's one strike and you're out.