Thursday, August 30, 2012

Devastating New Attack Ad: Has Obama Earned Your Vote?

Most of the ads coming out of these heavily funded Super PACs have been yawners (or, in one case, degenerate--I'm looking at you, Obama Super PAC) but there's a suggestion that a recent one from right wing Americans For Prosperity (as opposed to, you know, the anti-prosperity liberals, I presume) could be the 2012 "Red Telephone" ad that changed Obama's direction against Hillary ... until it didn't--but hey!

The Ad
At 1:02 in length HPOEYV is a "message" piece--longer than the 30-second saturation-bombing time-slot (maybe it has a 30-second version). It features three speakers talking about how they voted for Obama in 2008 but won't do so again: he hasn't earned it!

Richard, a white haired grandfather voted for Obama with "no reluctance."
Soulful and Serious. Is that shirt collar ... blue?
Robin, who gets the next introduction, says he presented himself as "something different."
She's Jewish. Just Like You. If You Are Jewish.

Maria had hoped that the president would bring "New jobs, not major layoffs, not people going through major foreclosures on their homes."
People going through minor layoffs or minor foreclosures would be OK!
Robin says he got his healthcare through ... but at what cost? Richard says Obama was gonna cut the defect in his first term--but he's seen zero interest in reducing spending (but Obama was interested in 'raising taxes' by letting the Bush Tax Cuts expire--he did seem pretty interested in that ...). Richard does note that "he inherited a bad situation--" --BUT-- "--but he made it worse."

Maria, the darkest skinned of our trio, thinks "that he's a great person" but "not the right leader for our country." Robin still believes in hope and change--but she doesn't think Obama's "the right way to go for that." Maria comes back to emphatically tell us that in her opinion "the president has not earned re-election in 2012."

Richard, "having seen his definition of hope and change" concludes "it's not the hope and change I want. It's not the hope and change I thought I was going to get."

He says, slightly sadly, "I don't think I helped my grandchildren by voting for president Obama ... and I regret that." AFP approves the message.

What Does It Mean?
The problem when going up against Obama is that when you attack him, you have to dig two graves: your likability score matches his ... and his is higher. McCain knew that--whether that calculus or his innate wish to run a clean campaign caused him to avoid the worst of the attacks--he knew that a frontal assault would sink him faster than it sank Obama.

The guys who were going to unleash Rev. Wright in a controversial, never-filmed attack ad, stated this explicitly: people like him (They put 'like' in quotes)--and even if they think he did a bad job, they still ... like him. So they wanted to give people "permission" to vote against him.

This ad, distilled of the Rev. Wright stuff, does exactly that. It's about "permission." The structure is simple:

Act 1: The Promise
The opening parts of the ad, with music that is just barely jaunty, gives us the 2008 perspective. These people were thoughtful, upright, patriotic citizens who voted for Obama because of his best qualities--he presented himself as something different. People thought he would bring "new jobs." He was, you know, an easy sell.

This part of the piece gives you permission to forgive yourself if you feel disappointed.

Act 2: The Turn
Then we get into the core of the message. We hit layoffs, foreclosures, Obamacare, and the deficit. Note that the lady doesn't disparage ObamaCare because she's an Obama voter. She wasn't a McCain or Palin voter who would shoot it on sight. Like a moose. So she calls it "his healthcare" with mild disdain in her voice.

This part of the piece hopes to hit your pain point: to give a voice and name to your pain.

Act 3: The Prestige
We go for the big finish: Not Voting For Obama. That's important: these people might all like Romney--maybe--but they're not suggesting they (you) will (should) vote for him (just stay home?). They are saying they won't vote for him and leaving it at that. This is important because it manipulates the same way that those Sprite commercials do when they make fun of the commercial process by having rapper characters break out in Shakespearean English when the "cameras stop"--it manipulates by 'avoiding being manipulative.' Of course it is being manipulative--but, like Leonardo DiCaprio invading your dreams, it wants its conclusions to sound like your ideas!

Will It Work?
The reason to think this might be a giant-killer is that Republican Psy-Ops Wizard Frank Luntz deems it "the most effective ad in influencing undecideds." Frank Luntz is the messaging super-star who got the term "estate tax" changed to "death tax." (He also claims he changed Global Warming to Climate Change--which seems to me like an own goal, if you ask me: anything can be Climate Change. He also has an amateur-hour web page--but he may well know his stuff).

He's the guy who, in conspiracy theory land, at any rate, came up with the term "Divisive" to hang around Obama's neck since it polled worse than other derogatory terms:
The hallmark of Republicans in the Frank Luntz era has been to find words that test well and embrace them, and find words that test badly and tar the opposition with them. Not concepts, not ideas, and certainly not policies. Words. So Republicans say they are all for “patient-centered” health care, but they’re against the “divisive” Barack Obama.
Note: no actual evidence that Luntz or anyone else tested attack phrases.

On the other hand, Luntz does take credit for testing ads and finds HPOEYV to be the most effective! Luntz takes a group of the most air-headed people he can get his hands on (undecideds) and gives them a dial to turn to say when they like or dislike something through the whole ad:
[T]he most effective ad overall is the AFP spot featuring testimonials from disappointed Obama voters. As it airs, Luntz enters the press room and starts narrating the modulating “DEM” and “GOP” lines we see superimposed on our monitors. “If you’re Romney, you need numbers over 70 for GOP leaners and numbers over 50 for Democrat leaners.” The lines spike past that benchmark for GOP leaners, and hover in the neighborhood of 50 for the Democrat-ish.
 Read the article for the the hilarious take on swing-voters too:
The sum total revealed a bizarre truth about swing voters. It’s not that they’re divided on any given issue, with half taking one side and half the other. Rather, everybody seemed to agree with everybody else about everything — and to disagree with them, too. Transitory coalitions formed and dissolved in what seemed a matter of milliseconds, like exotic particles in a supercollider. One minute, Latino Nose Spectacles was in complete agreement with Senior in Blazer. The next, they were at each other’s throats, and Young Yellow Dress had to team with Hair Gel to step in as the voice of reason. Working majorities seemingly assented to some premise, only to split a thousand ways on the most straightforward logical conclusion from said premise.

Everybody hates Congress, but most of these people either voted for their current congressmen or can’t name them. Everybody blames both parties for gridlock, but everyone also wants politicians brave enough to stand for their principles and against business as usual. Most call themselves moderates. One — one — describes himself as a liberal, and he voted for McCain and plans to vote for Romney. There were even those among them, reader, who liked Bill Clinton and Ronald Reagan equally. Such people aren’t so much swing voters as they are schizophrenic. It’s Schrödinger’s electorate.
Can an ad have that much impact? Well, it's arguable--but look at this:
It is significant that the Clinton campaign used its telephone ad in Texas, where a Fox poll conducted Feb. 26 to 28 showed that whites favored Mr. Obama over Mrs. Clinton 47 percent to 44 percent, and not in Ohio, where she held a comfortable 16-point lead among whites. Exit polls on March 4 showed the ad’s effect in Texas: a 12-point swing to 56 percent of white votes toward Mrs. Clinton. It is striking, too, that during the same weekend the ad was broadcast, Mrs. Clinton refused to state unambiguously that Mr. Obama is a Christian and has never been a Muslim.
What Do I Think?
I'm most interested in Maria. The ad doesn't waste time with disaffected blacks--even though black people having born the brunt of the economy is a key Republican talking point. She also doesn't open with much "permission"--she is the transition to the failure segment of the ad. I will also note that the only wedding ring we see in the entire piece is on Obama's hands in the end. It is unclear if any of these people are married (and we do, for vanishing moments, see the hands of Richard and Robin--but I could not tell if there was a ring on).

I think this is important: the ad has its demographic preferences made very clear:

  1. Older white males. Already Romney-centric--but he needs white men in there.
  2. Jewish voters
  3. Latina voters--especially young women. Maria's demographic is left somewhat uncertain but I don't think there's much room for doubt.
AFP isn't going after young college voters who are out of work and they aren't going after black voters who feel betrayed. I suspect this is the result of demographic testing or, at very least, gut intuition on the part of the ad makers. These people are real, so claims AFP, but they are not "random" or "genuine" in the sense that if you asked a set of previous Obama-voters what they thought you would get exactly this. There's nothing left to chance about their appearance or mannerism. 

What I like about the ad is that it is self-confident and supremely focused. It doesn't need harsh musical cues to tell us what we're supposed to be thinking. It doesn't rely on text overlays other than bare introductions. It is spare and efficient without being dry or cold. If these are real people they certainly seem to believe what they are saying. It does not play with words. It doesn't misrepresent any facts. It doesn't imply Obama killed a guy (even Bin Laden) when he did not.

Will this have the same impact the Red Telephone ad did? It might--but I think my link probably overstates even that. Nevertheless, it's an effective ad with a lot of money behind it (7MM, apparently). It's targeting swing-states and it might just win over some of those critical (if, we are told, air-headed) un-decideds.

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