Jerry vs Meg: who has the better ads?

I don’t normally like to talk politics on this blog–it’s mostly marketing here. But like any other Californian, I’ve been watching the ads in the gubernatorial race, and I have an opinion. I’m a bit jaded, though. Political races are marketing in motion. It may have not always been that way, but I can’t think of any races in recent history where this wasn’t the case. It’s usually bad marketing, too. The ads in the California race are a great case study.

So who gets my vote in the ad race? Jerry Brown’s team does. It’s not so much what his team has done right with the ads, but very often what Meg’s team has done wrong. I’m really surprised, and honestly, disappointed. I think Republicans are usually the better marketers–Karl Rove is proof of that (at least he was in the 2000 election). When they make a misstep, though, they go all out. Meg has gone all out.

In this ad, “A Lifetime in Politics, A Legacy in Failure,” the argument is made that Jerry is a career politician and has failed miserably at it. This could have been a persuasive ad if it weren’t for the fact that when I watch it, I’m immediately taken in by the music playing over images of a very young and good-looking Jerry Brown. The music is great, it’s appealing, so I’m listening to it, enjoying it and not really paying attention to the words, but, I tell you what else I’m doing: I’m watching those images of a young Brown, looking all hip and happening and I’m remembering how cool California once was, especially when Jerry was in office. Powerful images, powerful music–so powerful that I’m not noticing what the announcer is saying. I’m stunned by this misstep–it violates some very basic rules of advertising. Don’t overpower your message with all your other elements.

Jerry counters Meg’s ad by turning her own words against her in this ad “Thirty years ago, when I came to this state, anything was possible.” A title card comes up: “Who was governor thirty years ago?” Yeah. Jerry was. Ouch. Again, what was Whitman and her team thinking? This is a huge oversight.

Her ” Job Killer” ad misses the mark, too. There are a few of these ads featuring a woman’s voice. The narrator tells us about Brown’s failures. She never uses the term “Job Killer.” In this ad, we hear a man’s voice describing Jerry’s failed tactics, and ending with the phrase, “Job killer.” Catch phrases are important, but this one panders to the lowest common-demoninator in way that strikes me as an obvious intention. Also, “job killer” sounds downright comical. I can almost hear it in an SNL skit. The narrator fails, too, with his tone. I can’t take the seriousness of the message serious. The voice alternates between smug and “faux-spooky.” It’s another interesting case study in aligning all the elements in your ad, balancing them, and keeping everything in check. You’ve got an out-of-whack ad here.

I do want to give Meg kudos on this ad. She’s talking about what she plans to do, she is appealing on emotions (though some might say she’s playing on emotions and trying to do scare tactics, but I don’t agree). I wish she had stayed on track and on-message throughout the campaign. I think she may be coming back around to this, but let’s see what’s unleashed from her arsenal in the last few days.

Meg has gotten a lot of flak in this week for not agreeing to take down her negative ads. Brown said he would if she would–he’s ahead in polls; this is a generosity he can afford. I frankly think her refusal is overblown. She is in for the fight of her life and she needs to do what she needs to do to win—but she needs to do it right. That’s why her ads are so crucial. For all the people who do not go out and see the candidates stumping, this is their primary exposure to them.

Jerry Brown did a few ads really well. Notably, message boards and social networks are buzzing over the one comparing Meg and Arnold> The very first time I saw this ad, I thought, “Yep, he just won the race.” I would have to put that one, and the one above with Meg saying “That’s why I came to California thirty years ago,” as the most powerful and effective ones of his ads.

The polls are theoretically tight enough that Meg may pull away, but as of this moment, it’s looking like Brown leads the way. California has problems. We are ahead of most states in unemployment, then there is the budget and debt issues. Most people in the state are anxious to see what happens with Proposition 19, and most people I have spoken to do not think either candidate is going to make a difference. Nearly every Democrat I know wanted Gavin Newsom to be the candidate, not Jerry Brown. I’m just a marketer who loves good marketing. What do I know about politics? I leave it alone, until I start seeing some bad marketing come my way then I speak up. I consider it my duty as a law-abiding marketer, um citizen.

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