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Breaking Down Clinton's and Obama's New Ads: Remember when this was supposed to be "An Embarrassment of Riches"?

Posted by: David Kiley on April 15, 2008

Back in January, which seems like a year ago in this election campaign season, many were saying that the tension between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama was an embarrassment of riches—the Democratic nominee would either be the first woman candidate or the first African American candidate. I would say these two new ads from the two candidates appear to be more of an embarrassment.

Obama’s ad here is notable for its negativity directed at Clinton and the limpness of the rhetoric from the stump.

From Obama: “When we get passed the politics of division and distraction and we start focusing on what we have in common, there is nothing we can’t accomplish.”

Is this the same Obama we saw in Iowa? The ad is wallpaper, and opens with Clinton reminding people of Obama’s gaffe in San Francisco in which he (let’s be honest) came off sounding like he was marginalizing small town Reagan Democrats. Even if that wasn’t his intent, politics is a game of unintended consequences.

Where this ad is off the rails, though, is that it’s dull. It feels like the ad team may be feeling fatigue and is phoning in the writing. Do they need some fresh writers? Obama hasn’t had his rhetorical fast-ball since before the Ohio primary. And I include his speech on race. In that speech, he was coached to talk more at eye level rather than employ his church-like speech cadence that got people to swoon in Iowa and New Hampshire.

I’d say that Obama’s followers need to be reminded why he won Iowa. If there is a chance for him to take voters to the mountaintops again before the Pennsylvania or Indiana primaries, he’d be wise to take it.

Clinton’s ad is more negative and a clearer sign that Democrats should hope it doesn’t last much longer. Notice the casting in the ad. The Clinton campaign cast a multi-cultural looking, probably African-American, woman criticizing Obama near the opening of the ad, and it goes back to her for a second quote before the ad ends. The young woman looks like she could be Obama’s sister, and from a casting standpoint she looks like the embodiment of a young voter who the viewer would expect to be for Obama.

This the Rovian tactic of attacking a candidate’s strength, rather than his or her weakness. Obama’s strength is support among young people and African Americans.



News, opinions, inflammatory meanderings and occasional ravings about the world of advertising, marketing and media. By marketing editor Burt Helm, Innovation Editor Helen Walters, and senior correspondent Michael Arndt.

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