Where I absolutely agree with hand-wringers and message mavens alike is that the Obama campaign ads have been poor. That's not because they don't attack McCain or they don't tie him to Bush; it's a question of style. Even the ones which have done a credible job from a content perspective are not innovative, getting bogged down with the same statistics and one-line shibboleths ("protecting our economy") that pass for policy debate instead of offering a vision or a compelling narrative. I'm not completely opposed to presenting factual information (the "McCain will overturn Roe" ad was great), but in Obama they have an appealing candidate with unappealing advertising.
The Olympics ad that showed time-lapse footage of a house being built as a metaphor for getting the country back on track was a start, but there were all these stock images over the house-building and the reveal of the finished house at the end wasn't up long enough, so that completely ruined it. It's the perfect example of how over-cautious and wedded to the old ways of political ads the campaign has been, even in the primaries (with a few exceptions).
Creatively their spots are dead. They say the right things but in the wrong way. The campaign has to cut through the clutter. Nate Silver has a couple ideas, one of which I like.
During the final night of Democratic Convention in Denver, the Obama campaign had seven or eight 'ordinary' people speak to the assembled crowd at Invesco Field. They were working class, middle-aged white and Hispanic voters, who conveniently all happened to be from swing states. But they were actually pretty persuasive, and produced some of the more moving moments of the convention:
So I would put together five or six of these spots, featuring these people or people like them speaking directly to camera, with interspersed images of their hometowns and their families, reserving 5 seconds at the end for a few phrases on blackscreen:
"The Obama Economic Plan"
"Tax Cuts for Working Families"
"5 Million New Green Energy Jobs"
"Health Care for Every American"
"The Change That We Need"
You get the idea. It's a little unconventional but would be buzzworthy and would seek to counter some of Palin's homespun appeal.
You could do this in an entertaining and appealing way. Failing that, I think one of the best things they can do is feature Barack himself. He's the best message originator we have, and the riffs he makes on the campaign trail scream out for 30-second television ads. Instead of having him talk to the camera in a spot, just replay one of those riffs. For example, this one from today.
This will have the effect of actually offering some passion to the message. There's no passion in his ads right now. They're largely a litany. And so another possibility is this ad they cut internally for the DNC, which could be made into a 60-second spot. It has an emotional appeal, although that could be because I quite like the song (Fake Empire by The National) and is a positive way to push back on the "community organizing" slur. At some level I understand why the campaign is running away from the "movement" messaging in the general election, but I think it's a mistake. If turnout and motivating the base is crucial, then something like this could be very successful.
Lastly, they could get out their core message on Sen. McCain in ways that go beyond citing statistics and a list of policies. You can fit them in to something that actually has a storyline, like this anti-Norm Coleman ad from the DSCC:
There are a number of ways you can go. Liberals have the creative community on their side but the campaign isn't putting it to use, and the 527s have been defunded. Everyone talks about how the Obama campaign has reawoken some spirit of taking the country back and putting us on a better path. You wouldn't know it right now from the ads. Do better.
...adding that I don't presume to know better that Obama definitely "needs to do X," in fact I recoil from those imperatives. But as a member of the creative community, it seems like a real wasted opportunity, particularly because they have the ability to get this done. I also agree that if they end up blowing this one, Democrats might want to consider dissolution.
UPDATE: As soon as I wrote this, I noticed this new ad, which is somewhat better:
At least the music is a little jarring, and some of the graphics are not totally standard. Overall, however, my criticism stands. Tell a story. Go off the omniscient voice. Add some passion.