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What Team Obama Can Learn From Google's Superbowl Ad

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The spot was simply brilliant -- with an emphasis on "simple".

Google's "Parisian Love" ad on the Superbowl was a masterpiece of understated cool, designed to pack an emotional punch not with histrionics, but by reminding its target audience that Google's vaunted search engine is an indispensable enabler of modern life.

Depicting a series of Google searches which steadily chronicle the passionate progression of a classic love story, the ad reminds us why, like Xerox and FedEx, the company's brand name has become not just a noun representing a service provider, but the verb synonymous with the service itself.

The Obama Administration could learn a great deal from this spot. While their woes are not as dire as the doom and gloom screamed from the rafters of the punditocracy over the last several weeks there is no question that Team Obama is adrift in choppy waters right now. They can retake the rudder by heeding at least three basic lessons of the Google spot:

1. Tell a simple story that resonates deeply with your audience.

The spot touched one of the most special places in our hearts: where we fell for the love of our lives. It didn't sell Google's techie bells and whistles; in fact, it didn't "sell" at all. The spot simply painted a picture of the wonderful real-world outcome the technology brings to real people. That always sells.

That is, of course, precisely what the White House has failed to do over the last several months as it has fought for health reform. Obviously, you can't make the same kind of connection talking about pre-existing conditions or public options as you can about finding your soulmate, but you can and must find a way to connect to people on an emotional level. As I constantly counsel my clients, people buy with their hearts and justify with their heads.

2. The more your opponents scream, the more you should soothe.

One of the reasons the Google spot garnered so much attention (more than 2 million Youtube views in 24 hours) was because of the contrast it provided. For television advertisers, the Superbowl is the sine qua non -- the most important event of the year. Accordingly, as the stakes loom higher every year, so too the pressure to come up with the best "gotcha" gimmick, the most over-the-top special effects, etc.

Google provided the perfect foil for this phenomenon with sixty simple seconds spot of typed search queries on a white screen background with a soothing musical score and no voice-over. The spot, which has actually been up on Youtube for months, worked because it offered a comforting contrast.

Imagine how effective the White House healthcare pitch would have been by answering the angry screeds of their right-wing critics with simple stories of how real American families would benefit from health insurance reform. It's hard to believe they wouldn't be in a much better place politically by reverting to the 2008 "No Drama Obama" mode of countering cacophony with calm.

3. Talk to your audience -- but let others listen in.

The Google spot was also notable because of what it didn't do: It didn't try to talk to the entire 100-million+ Superbowl audience, nor even the majority of it. A spot about a grad student who goes to study in Paris, visits the Louvre, meets, falls for and ultimately marries and begins a family with a highly literate Parisian beauty (they talk about truffles and Truffaut, for goodness sakes), is not exactly aimed at Lunch-bucket Larry. But the broad themes of the story line are accessible to all.

After running a election campaign that was uncanny in its understanding of how to reach the exact target needed to win, the Administration has been strangely off-mark. It's been clear for months that, despite the hue and cry from the left and right edges, healthcare will only be won by appealing to the moderate middle.

Staking out a more simple, direct and measured rhetorical pathway might well have led centrist Republicans like Olympia Snow and Susan Collins to get on board early when the President had more post-election momentum. At the very least, it probably would have given enough cover to conservative Dems like Nebraska's Ben Nelson and Montana's Max Baucus to push a bill through months ago, before political earthquake of the Massachusettes election of Senator Scott Brown.

The good news for the President is that it's probably not too late for a course correction. While he has clearly stumbled, he has that most precious of communications assets: an audience who likes him.

If his widely-praised recent addresses to both the Republican and Democratic caucuses as well as his town hall speeches of the last two weeks are an indication, he seems to be getting the message. He has striked a much more conciliatory tone towards his opponents and a much more broadly resonant theme of "jobs, jobs and more jobs".

While it's not likely to please those on the far left or right, it doesn't take a Google search to figure out that this is the smarter course.