Bush in 30 Seconds Ads: More Misses than Hits

The clever people at moveon.org have released the finalists in their Bush in 30 seconds contest. Entrants were asked to make a 30-second anti-Bush TV commercial.

Although impressive in many ways, overall the entries were ultimately somewhat disappointing. I think many made basic errors of playing to the choir rather than to the unconverted, and in particular would seem shrill to many voters.

Below I set out my biases going into ranking the entries, and then my (somewhat contrary) conclusion as to which one is the best.


  1. It's more important for the spot to appeal to people who don't already agree Bush is a disaster than it is that it appeal to those who already see the light
  2. Funny spots are bad unless they are perfect. There is an enormous danger of being seen to trivialize important things. Thus for example Hood Robbing wouldn't work, and even the cleverer Bush's Repair Shop just isn't quite perfect enough.
  3. The spot absolutely must not in any way suggest the voter is anything less than noble and wonderful. Politics is about hope (or fear) but not about negative self-images. Thus, for example, Wake Up America might seem like a clever spot to those who think “America” is “asleep” but the image of the unshaven, groggy, sleeper is unlikely to appeal to those who are asked to accept its unflattering self-image.

    [Update: Alex Halavais's favorite, Imagine, also fails on this: telling people to “THINK” does not evoke IBM, it suggests that you believe they don't think unless you tell them to think (or what to think). Won't sell. Not to mention that many people like the idea of saving money for corporations, on the theory that it lowers prices; in general the focus on 'evil corporations' rather than 'Bush chums' comes off as shrill to the point of implausible. Plus the first speaker looks like Max Headroom, and the key line is spoken by a guy who looks like many fine programmers I know, but will shout, or at least mumble, “drugged out hippie liberal freak” to key parts of l'Amérique profonde.]

  4. The spot must not even suggest the existence of any fact not in evidence. Polygraph fails on this unless there was an actual polygraph result of Bush's statements.
  5. The spot can't be too shrill, and can't directly insult the Head of State. Bush's Repair Shop flirts with this. And, most of the 15 finalists not named here fail on this. It's easy to see how this could happen, as there's so much to be shrill about. But this is PR, folks.
  6. The spot can't require too much thought to get the point. Among the ones that take more than one second's thought are Child's Pay, and Desktop (recall that half the country doesn't have a computer; and very few of us have Macs!).
  7. It helps if the spot is inspiring, although in an 'attack' ad that's almost impossible.

My runners up:
Bankrupt (production values like a great movie trailer, but verging dangerously on shrill), The human cost of war (ditto), and In my country (my favorite in many ways, but I don't think it would play as well in [much of] Florida, much less Peoria; plus some viewers may tune out in the first 5 seconds — use it in urban markets only?)

And (IMHO) the winner is:
What Are We Teaching Our Children. Given what I said above, this may seem a strange choice, as this spot is pretty funny. But I think it is funny in a perfect way, and using children to make the point (with the parental reaction shots—the noble voter is above this stuff!), delivers the zing with just the right amount of sting. The spot also has great psychological resonances, as it not only pokes fun at Bush's conduct, but it surreptitiously plays on one of his weaknesses — the perception that he's a bit childlike and maybe not quite up to the job.

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4 Responses to Bush in 30 Seconds Ads: More Misses than Hits

  1. Pingback: Blog de Halavais

  2. jason says:

    the moveon.org apology…..pretty much…..

  3. William says:

    I like your comment that “What are we teaching our children?” plays nicely to Bush’s perceived weakness of being childlike. In particular, the use of “Bring ’em on” at the end is brilliant — the best use of that line yet.

  4. austin says:

    I agree with much of what you say. However, I really dislike “What are we teaching our children?”
    When I watch it, I can’t help thinking about Clinton lying. When I think of Clinton lying, I think of Democrats lying. I know the ad is not pointed at me, but I think anytime you say ‘Bush Lied’, the response is going to be ‘So did Clinton’.


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