Sunday, October 11, 2009

Election Ads

It's that time of year when the leaves turn colors, the air gets nippy and politicians escape their long slumbers to poke their noses from the safety of their burrows and go on the attack. In New Jersey, we're voting for a governor and lieutenant governor. The stakes are high, and the race is contentious, a public blood sport like bearbaiting in its ferocity and barbarism.
Instead of eviscerating their foes with sharp, bladed instruments, politicians use words and advertising, a much more civilized approach to slaughter and humiliation. It used to be that flogging was reserved for criminals who transgressed moral and civil laws. Now it's perfectly legal and dragged back into the public square via television and Internet.
A decent political ad is all about conveying your message and persuading voters that you're the candidate they should vote for. Failing that, it's a chance for you to outline your differences with those running against you. If that's not possible, an all-out mudslinging orgy is in order, with the loosest facts, sound bites, ominous music and blurred visuals are summoned. After all, if you can't persuade people to vote for you, scare the shit out of them and force them to.
The following ads are tame, even for New Jersey. They don't represent the ugliness found in modern campaigns. The three gubernatorial candidates have different ways of presenting their messages here.

Democratic Gov. Jon Corzine's ad "More To Do" has an Aaron Sorkin vibe: stirring music, images of hard-working New Jerseyans and a mini-drama of Corzine as the fault-ridden leader begging for a second chance. It's non-controversial, non-attacking and generally upbeat in theme and presentation. it's also depressing as hell that the governor is essentially pleading with voters, like he's on the ropes, but they'll be a new day dawning tomorrow, only brighter and full of opportunity or some other overtly optimistic bullshit.

Republican challenger Chris Christie is taking a different approach with this ad, "Googly Eyes." You know those commercials for Geico with the odd stack of dollar bills with bulbous eyes staring at unsuspecting dupes? Apparently, the Republicans incorporate that popular ad, but with a twist. See ,that pile of bills is the money taxpayers could be saving with Chris Christie as governor. Get it? Who says Republicans are bereft of ideas and uncreative? This pinnacle of lameness is pretty sad. If this ad was meant to be funny, it bombed miserably. It's time for Christie to start spending campaign funds on an ad consultant and less on stromboli at Sbarro.

Then there's this ad from Independent candidate Chris Daggett. It's the hidden masterpiece of the election, because it incorporates several interesting visuals, including some pretty bad actors portraying Corzine and Christie. Note to North Woods Advertising: when you're casting for these spots, make sure the actors actually sound like the people they're impersonating. The guy portraying Christie could get bit work in the Sopranos. Anyway, the use of the broken escalator representing the state is creative and shows inertia and stagnation. Corzine's response is to wait for a bailout while Christie, a federal prosecutor, threatens incarceration with those responsible. Daggett steps in like the white knight, takes immediate action and asks people to follow him and together by walking instead of waiting, he leads them to the top.
On an advertising level, it's brilliant: the image of Daggett as a take-charge, proactive leader comes through here while making his opponents look like incompetent buffoons. It's also the only ad I've seen that successfully uses humor without being vitriolic or malicious.

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