October 29, 2008

How to use ordinary people in political ads.

The great film documentarian Errol Morris -- who makes his living, he says, doing advertisements -- writes about the use of ordinary people in political ads. He surveys some old ads, going back to 1952, and he talks about how he went about using real people to manufacture make an ad promoting Obama:
If you’re not going to put words in people’s mouths, if you’re really listening to what they have to say, you’re going to learn something. Admittedly, the evidence is anecdotal. I haven’t selected these people through some kind of statistical sampling. These people are self-selected. They wrote in and said that they were registered Republicans, Independents or switch-voters who were planning to vote for Obama. People in the middle. And I was interested in talking to them on film about why they were making the switch from voting for a Republican to voting for a Democrat. Was it linked with policy? With the personality of the candidate?
Here's the ad :

19 comments:

mcg said...

Yeech.

If I wasn't convinced that the Obama phenomenon wasn't an outright cult, the last person in this video sealed it.

Oligonicella said...

Admittedly, the evidence is anecdotal. ... They wrote in and said that they were registered Republicans, Independents or switch-voters who were planning to vote for Obama.

Admittedly, my evidence is anecdotal. Whenever I've actually spoken with someone who said they were registered Republicans, INdependents or switch-voters now planning on voting for Obama, they have shown a remarkably poor memory for Republican events and history and a fairly stout emotional leaning for the leftward side of things. This of course leads me to believe they lied.

Original George said...

A few days ago we saw Sen. Obama's campaign going after older white male voters in NC and VA with the Opie and barn ads.

Now he's targeting the generic undecided voter who has just started to pay attention to the race.

You could take 90 percent of those quotes and put them in a McCain ad. Nothing said about any policies, just Avedony smiling friendly apolitical people like you 'n' me all wanting someone "exciting" who will bring "change" and renew "hope."

He "really cares."

Nice piano music.

Host with the Most said...

Obviously half of the men in the ad are gay.

Just sayin'.

Meade said...

Excellent propaganda. We will need a lot more just like that during an Obama administration because it's not gonna be apparent initially, it's not gonna be apparent that we're right.

Ads like this will help us gird the region of our hips, groin, and lower abdomen.

Meade said...

Alternatively, we could all just wear diapers.

Henry said...

Morris is a very smart guy, and has an honest eye (note his analysis of the Swift Boat ads at the link).

I'm sure he knows about weak confirmation bias.

This is the problem that if you argue a position poorly, you increase the certainty of those who oppose it. The weak argument is so easily critiqued or even mocked that it is better avoided.

I think this ad is a perfect example. It's not just a matter of whether we believe these "ordinary" people are really moderates (Morris clearly knows about the biases of self-selected samples). The problem is in the art direction. That's Morris's responsibility.

The ad makes the "ordinary' people seem mannered. They are overdressed, framed in an artificial, minimalist space, and edited into robotic coherency.

So, for me the ad fails completely. The naive emotionalism that passes for judgement is laughable. The way the pronouncements are presented is grotesque.

Joan said...

These people are self-selected.

That says it all.

Henry, I love you. (By which I mean, I appreciate your insights and the articulate way in which you expressed them.)

Dewb said...

I guess it was modesty, but I'm surprised that in Morris' history of "ordinary people" ads he didn't mention his own work on the Apple "Switch" campaign, which uses this exact approach: recording ordinary people in their own words, in front of a white background, over jazzy piano music.

The Ellen Feiss spot is the one people seem to remember, but this guy is more representative.

William said...

I share your respect for Earl Morris as a film maker. His movies are thoughtful and disturbing and the very opposite of the agit prop of Michael Moore. He has great skill in manipulating words and images to create an effect. That is why I am so skeptical of the whole Obama aura. The Russian Revolution was nothing like the (Eisenstein) movie. Citizen Kane was more revelatory of the personal flaws of Orson Welles than of William Randolph Hearst. ...I don't know the real Obama. I only know the Obama that people whose trade is myth making wish me to know.... Artists and writers have gotten so many things wrong in the past two hundred years.....The orginal Man of Destiny was Napoleon. He was an outsider who brought hope and change to the peoples of Europe. He was celebrated by the artists and intellectuals of his time and for generations after....It was Wellington who brought the abolition of slavery to the French Empire and who defeated Napoleon with numerically inferior forces at Waterloo. How many movies have been made about Napoleon vs Wellington.... The vainglorious are attracted to the vainglorious. The support that Obama has garnered among artists and intellectuals is a compelling reason to vote against him.

PatCA said...

Yes, indeedy-do, we need "hope" to overcome the hell on earth that is life in America today.

Trooper York said...

What a rip-off. When he said he was going to us "ordinary people" I expected to see Mary Tyler Moore.

Henry said...

Shucks, Joan, thanks. I'm no Bissage, but I try to a net add.

chuck b. said...

Oh, another heartfelt Obama ad.

What joy.

People love to declare their Obama-love. Will Obama ad production continue even after Obama wins the election? I will not be surprised.

EDH said...

Wouldn't one of those games shows where the "ordinary person" contestant is locked in a tank full of loose dollars being blown around by high powered fans while trying to grab as many as they can in 60 seconds be more representative of the Obama platform?

Jeff with one 'f' said...

"The great film documentarian Errol Morris"

Formerly a documentarian, currently a propagandist.

chuck b. said...

Did I say heartfelt? That was before my coffee. I meant stylized, contrived, and over-determined.

gcotharn said...

However, these persons are not interested in what Obama's actions say he is. They believe their instincts about his image more than they believe the hard record of action/nonaction.

swampleg said...

It is interesting to note that beyond graduating college not one person mentioned a personal or political accomplishment of Obama. Sort of like Jeffrey Sachs. I also saw no policy proposals mentioned. And these are cherry-picked quotes.