THE BLOG
09/15/2008 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

Obama's Olympic Ad a Total Waste of Money

So, Barack Obama will put people back to work, cut taxes for the middle class, end tax breaks for companies that send jobs overseas, provide incentives for companies that grow jobs in the US, and make energy independence a priority.

All laudable goals, to be sure. And, in Obama's case, sincere. But, as a political commercial, a total bust. Problem is McCain could, would, probably shall say the same things. And, how will the voters decide whose 10 point program is best?

And, please, Obama ad-teams, don't insult yourselves by assuring us that the ad was tested with focus groups. BFD.

Here's why focus groups are irrelevant: the participants are brought in the room for the purpose of listening, and thus concentrating on the content, realizing they will be asked questions about the ad that are addressed to the logical, rational side of the brain (for simplicity, let us call this Left-Brain). Even if they are asked how they "felt" about it, it is still the Left-Brain reporting.

Viewers on the other hand get an impression. Mostly, they do not want to pay attention, they are watching the Olympic games. They cannot sort out the truth from the fiction about this or that program anyhow, and it all comes across at best as pablum.

I had hoped there would be less need for this type of article in a post-Kerry/Gore world, but apparently the Bob Shrums and Ted Davines of the Democratic consultancy establishment are still hard at work, peddling their nonsense of polling to discover what issues are on peoples' minds, and then delivering a message to tell them what the candidate will do about it.

Successful campaigns, successful marketing of any kind, depend first and foremost on making strong emotional ("Right-Brain") connections.

Let's begin with the basics. The point of the ads is for the voter to trust Barack Obama to solve their problems. It comes across very cheesy and slick for an announcer to deliver that message. It seems like a product commercial when what needs to be conveyed is trust. Lesson #1: To connect Barack Obama to the voter, have Barack Obama's voice and figure in 90% or more of the ad. It will come across as more sincere -- because it is! And, the more people get to know Barack Obama the more they like him. So why is he left to say only, "I am Barack Obama and I approved this message"?

Second, connecting with voters right-brains begins with claiming the moral high-ground. That should be a key part of any message. That should be easy -- the moral high-ground has been unoccupied for 8 years. Pick your issue(s). Foreign policy: "It is wrong and weakens our military to have US troops tied down in Iraq awaiting the Iraqi politicians to settle their difference. Starting a war with Iraq was a terrible decision". Healthcare: "We cannot be a competitive or caring nation if all our citizens do not have healthcare". Energy: "Our dependence on foreign oil weakens the country, and subjects the American people to gas prices determined by foreign dictators". Education: "Your children deserve an education that allows them to compete in the world, and they deserve well-paying jobs when they graduate". Budget: "We had a surplus when Bush took over; we now have the largest debt in world history; that is not what we should be leaving to our children and grandchildren. Rule of law: "Our success as a nation has depended upon faith in our democratic processes and the application of the rule of law. We need to restore faith in our democracy, starting at the highest levels of government." Economy: (taking a page from Hillary!) "For the last 8 years, most Americans have been invisible to the Bush/McCain Republicans" -- and then, for one ad, he can talk about McCain opposing the GI Bill of Rights because too many would go to college (pictures of people in uniform, then becoming people graduating, then working); another ad, he could talk about McCain opposing extending SCHIP, with pictures of schoolchildren getting vaccinated)...

Third, the ad should distinguish Barack from McCain. Occupying those moral high-grounds, and others you can easily design, provides such obvious contrasts with Bush/McCain that I need not even write them. But, Barack needs to speak them in the ads, not assume people will get it. Note: these distinctions are NOT at the level of policy detail, but at the higher level of good and right vs. bad and wrong. And, at that level, Obama should rip McCain to shreds with two well-crafted sentences.

Fourth, the ad needs to embrace the American people, and convey Barack's general message that he will not do this himself, but that he knows that the American people can rise to this or that challenge, as we always have before. (Photo images of Barack's big crowds and another of a small 'working group').

Fifthly, the ad should have something that connects to Barack's life -- his mother without health insurance, just paying off their student loans, Michelle as the product of an investment in public education, his faith in the American people based upon what THEY accomplished when he worked as a community organizer, his own connection to his children ages 7 and 10 and the future he wants for them, and all other children, and so on.

Sixth, having seized the moral high-ground, having sharply distinguished himself from McCain, and having embraced/included the American people as up to the challenge and part of the solution, he should convey his commitment to whatever the subject of the ad is. One way to do that is repetition--what is in the ad on that subject becomes a phrase in his stump speeches, and vice versa. Another unique means for Barack is to remind people that he is not only going to fight the highly-paid lobbyists, he has already begun by not letting them contribute to his campaign, and he will go over their heads, directly to the American people, to get done for them what they deserve. McCain talks-the-talk, but he does not walk-the-walk. He could end every ad by saying "Only Barack Obama has not taken any lobbyist, special interest money. McCain bathes in it".

Seventh, stop letting the Republicans determine the message. The foreign trip was a great success, and only the careful manipulation of the media by the rightwing neutralized it. Most Democratic campaigns take such information and (wrongly) conclude that they should run away from those events.

Balderdash. Twaddle. The Republicans showed their vulnerability, their anxiety about Barack's appeal. They are telegraphing that the positive exploitation of such images could mean the end of their campaign.

Here is a man, Barack Obama, who not only handled himself well on the world stage, and thus can restore respect and dignity as the leader of the free world, but who was able to stimulate great enthusiasm for the US overseas. "Won't it be easier [note: when times are hard for people, seeing a way they can become easier, is a great Right-Brain connector; and note again, I said "seeing" a way, not being lectured about crowd sizes] for the US to solve major international problems when the US regains respect by governments and enthusiastic support by the people?"

And, show domestic images of Barack and large crowds. Use them, as suggested above, to tell people that, together, he and they can overcome the special interests, etc. It's palpable. It's real. The visual will take that message to the Right-Brain.

Don't shrink. Fight. Use the images. Shove it back down their throats. And then every time they try to combat it by raising it as an issue, they actually call more attention to Barack's talents, and how that can translate into an easier and better life for the American people. It backfires on them. They will then shut up, and then the Obama campaign should repeat it incessantly. For the boomers a little clip of John Kennedy overseas, or Robert Kennedy in the US, to similarly large crowds will trigger some key emotional connections that he, Obama, is their chance of seeing the dreams they had, that were taken by assassins' bullets, realized in their lifetime.

Finally, stop using polls to determine what is important to people. Most of us can tell you what a poll will say before it is taken. Perhaps not the exact percentages or even rank order, but close enough. The key is to realize that the results do not reflect what is really important to people, for the simple reason that none of us is so in tune with our inner psyches to be able to reflect them in Q&A. People spend years talking to psychiatrists trying to figure that out. And it is our inner psyches, not our analyses of 10-point programs, that determine our vote.

I know, I know, that a great field organization is being assembled. I know, I know, that with such a field organization Kerry and Gore both would have won. I know, I know, he won the primaries, didn't he? Well, yes, but he got creamed in the last two months when the Hillary campaign started connecting with the Right-Brains of the electorates.

So, how about jettisoning the failed Democratic campaign consultants' strategies? That's a change we would all welcome.

Now.