Dueling Campaign Wall Street Ads: The Lesson is "Keep It Simple, Stupid."

Posted by: David Kiley on September 17, 2008

Looking at today’s economic ads from both Barack Obama and John McCain is a study is the difference between message and content.

Obama’s new ad, which runs two minutes, is dreadful. Obama is shown in what we are supposed to think is a living room, I guess. I think it is actually a hotel suite. Bad news. I’d have put flags in the background to make him look more presidential.

Then, we get a laundry list of Obama’s six-point plan. Yikes. Details of a six-point plan in an TV ad is a bad idea. Obama is in a suit. He should be in shirt sleeves, with the sleeves rolled up a bit. And if I had been writing, I would have slipped in a few lines about his and his wife’s genuine pull-up-your-boot-strap upbringing. His student loans, etc. The message might be more……”I helped bring tough ethics reform to Congress…and I will bring reform to Wall Street that will make Main Street safer from the same kind of greed and mismanagement…….”

The Obama ad, just when the campaign should be seizing the economy as his issue, is losing the story-line in blither.

McCain, on the other hand, basically puts himself out there as a Wall Street ass kicker, despite the fact that he doesn’t have the bona fides to claim that. But the ad is very very good.

“You…the American workers are the best in the world…” the ad begins. It’s a great opening. McCain is talking to the blue collar folks who will decide the election in Michigan, Pennsylvania, Ohio and Wisconsin. “The greed of Wall Street….that’s unacceptable.” The kicker….”I’ve taken on tougher guys than this before.” This is an oblique reference to McCain’s POW experience. Not that that experience has any connection to reforming Wall Street. But it’s a way to shoehorn in to the ad something voters know about John McCain. It connects what they are familiar with about McCain to the problem at hand. That is case-study-worthy ad writing.

For Obama, this is just the sort of ad that leads pundits to say that Americans still don’t know him. This economic crises is probably, outside of the actual debates, the last chance for Obama to connect with voters who are still on the fence.

Democratic strategist James Carville said famously in 1992…”It’s the economy, stupid.” McCain’s handlers know that most people are stupid when it comes to the economy. They don’t want to sit through an ad that explains how the candidate will fix it. They simply want to feel good, and safer. Here is another ad axiom: Keep It Simple, Stupid.

Reader Comments

Frank Loweser

September 17, 2008 1:21 PM

Couldn't have said it better. Simplify. Simplify. Ads are not meant to convey information, but rather a feeling. McCain's people understand this. I don't think Obama's team does.

David Coats

September 24, 2008 11:33 AM

Great post. Obama is really rolling the dice here, betting that the voters want something beyond the typical political ad in a moment of true economic crisis. It does re-enforce his "change" message, but that could just mean "change for the duller." Interesting stuff.

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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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