Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Obama's Infomercial - Live Blogging

I've been so curious about this 30 minute commercial. What was it going to be? How would it be produced? Would it be successful? Or would it be a risk to his campaign? I'm going to find out in real-time along with you... I'm going to live blog the 30 minute spot:

8:04: I am a bit surprised how infomercially this infomercial has started out feeling like.
8:05: Going through his policies in person. This is a little less infomercially. Did he say $200k and not $250k for the tax increase line?
8:08: Targeting the elder class. Pills, medical insurance, healthcare. This is the health care vignette set up so he can give us his policy statements on healthcare. OK, so what I'm seeing is the production strategy: Provide a "real life" example from "real America" and then cut to policy proposals to address the issues outlined... um, nope. That's not how he's doing it...
8:10: Now we're onto energy independence. Did he really skip his proposals on health care that would have tied to that old couple struggling?
8:11: Looking presidential now... he's moving to Iraq now. His favorite topic in my view. Yes, that goes against the conventional wisdom that foreign policy is not Obama's strong smoke, but it's clearly where he is his most passionate. He sees himself as Reagan II. I know that might seem odd based on what we have heard and seen from the media thus far. But that's his model. The unknown guy with "no experience" who surprises everyone with his savvy, strategy, and popularity.
8:13: Widow with mortgage story in New Mexico vignette. As my friend just texted me "Not feelin' it."
8:16: Now we're onto the bio. Talking about Dad. But that came and went quickly. Now back to his convention speech. Now back to in-person Barack. Honestly, I'm a bit surprised around the lack of flow and structure of this infomercial.
8:18: Now back to bio. Talking about Mom now. The bio stuff feels less infomercially than the case studies. Hmmm... now we're back to his original speech when he jumped into the race. Oh, OK. His mom is part of his original stump speech, which brings it back to the mom meme.
8:19: Michele and daughters. Family man mini-segment. Obama@home. Now we're back to stump speeches, and Dick Durbin and Claire McCaskill commentary about how great he is.
8:21: Hey, it's Joe the Biden talking about how Obama was as a Senator.
8:21: Oh, now it's Obama talking about how great Biden was as a Senator. How mutual.
8:22: Another case study/vignette. I'm getting structure whiplash. Plant workers. Now they're struggling to make ends meet. Lamenting the working man's plight... lack of security, people's reliance on big corporations that are caring less and less about them. This is a bit cliche' but I think it works for a lot of Americans in the rust belt where Obama would benefit from a few extra hearts and minds.
8:24: Quick flip to foreign policy. Now we're talking about Taliban, Afghanistan, and the family of a soldier. Once again, a bit surprised around the lack of thematic continuity.
8:26: Bill Richardson (with beard and mustache) endorses how unusually positive Obama is, and then Obama promises us that he's not a perfect man and will not be a perfect President. But he will ask us to help us help him with "our" Democracy.
8:27: Now it looks like a live presentation (is it?). Back to closing arguments. Economic messages prevail. This might be where the Bill Clinton reveal happens... (?)
8:29: Yup, he's in Florida. I think it's live, crowd goes nuts (though it's indoors).
8:29: Biden comes out, but no Clinton! Bummer, I thought I was going to scoop the media on that. Oh well.
8:30: It's over.

I am underwhelmed by the infomercial. I do not think it did any real damage to the Obama campaign, and the advantage of being on prime time TV can probably only help if not just for generic 'exposure bias' reasons.

But I have to say that for a campaign that has been so savvy with its messages and presentation, this infomercial felt too much like, well, an infomercial. And, I am a bit surprised by the lack of narrative, story line, crescendo, or any kind of storyboard that I could identify. Instead, it felt like a series of scenes that, while all part of the same Obama message, did not create an Obama story -- neither his personal story nor his policy story. To me, it felt like a hodgepodge of both, speckled with case studies that seem all too caricatured -- which left me with very little emotional impact as a viewer.

Is it possible that live blogging has actually distracted me such that I've missed some deeper meaning? Possibly. After all, this is my first live blogging experience. But barring that, the only advantage I see for Obama is if enough undecideds sat through the policy bits and learned something new. And, possibly, our infomercial culture might be more in tune with this marketing approach than I am. I cannot disregard this possibility.

Important stylistic note: there was nothing negative. Nothing about McCain/Palin. And no competitive differentiators outlined. It was, at its core, an infomercial.

Funny, I never thought of Obama as an informercially kind of guy. But, then again, maybe this is me projecting my biases too broadly. I look forward to reading the reviews and analysis -- and seeing if there was any "instant polling" done.

9:30PM - One hour later - anecdotes are coming in. An elder-class citizen was completely persuaded to switch her vote from McCain to Obama based on the infomercial, and a 30-something male was "brought to tears" by the stories portrayed in the spot. So, I have learned at least one thing already -- presuming these two people are any indication of a broader reception of the ad -- I am not the guy you want to advise or produce your infomercial spots.



Yes, it felt like an infomercial. Yes, it was a little hodgepodge with too many cuts and not enough narrative to tie them together.

But if there is one word I would have to use to describe this 30-minute ad it would be "moving". Yes, moving! Moving to the point where even I (a white male) shed a few tears. Believe me, I surprised even myself on that!

So, if the ad's goal was to convey a sense of hope and an urgent need for change, well, then it really did its job in my eyes. It may have been short on "this is a problem and this is how I will fix it" narratives, it may have contained some spins, but the unspoken undertone of the ad was, well, moving.


Your sentiments echo much of the post-commercial feedback I've received.

I am not quite sure what to make of this disconnect, because I am usually able to separate my own personal opinion from an objective observation. And in this case, I was clearly blogging from the latter, with the intention of giving it an honest assessment that would likely resonate with the deeper, non-partisan feelings of most viewers.

Somehow, this is not happening in this case. And it's confusing to me.

Moving, eh? How about hackneyed? Banal? Trite? I mean, this is Populist 101 stuff. Fields of wheat? Seriously?

Sure, those were real people out there with real problems, but to me, they are back-filled examples to support Obama's platform.

It was "produced" -- not "real."

I don't know exactly what I was expecting, or what I think we deserved to expect, but I think I was hoping for something more real and honest, not prepackaged and produced.

Mika R. from Morning Joe said it was a "visual scented candle." I agree. It was a warm, fuzzy, scented candle. And I agree that the first (half) black Presidential nominee does need to show his more genteel side, it didn't seem to have the urgency or the punch of what I thought the Obama campaign was based on -- real change.

A bit late in my observations, but I will posit that this 'infomercial' was very deliberately targeted, and NOT at the likes of you, or me ;-)

I'm extremely impressed with the near absolute command that the campaign has had over both form and substance. I was terrified that it would be an Al Gore moment, and was very very pleased to see 'hackneyed' instead ;-)

Actually, I thought it was well done, with a good dollop of schmaltz, to be sure, and it appealed to EXACTLY the broad Populist 101 demographic that it was intended to.

Never intended to be a smack-down of McCain.
No need for that.

You might find my comments at of interest --

Obama the Sphere to DC's Flatland

Cheers and congratulations!!



Thanks for the comments and the link. A very perspective-d perspective. Good stuff, and well reasoned. I do think that while Obama does see the matrix, it remains to be seen how he interacts with it now that he's in charge of it.

hi Jon

Thanks for your note, as well!

Yes, Barack Skywalker may have learned the ways of the Force, but the "Death Star" of DC has a way of leaving no good things unpunished.

There's nearly infinite inertia in that dense matter, and it will take a leader of epochal stature to bring enough of We the People's conscious energy to bear on it to change the direction.

I think that our Man is on to an extremely important principal, though: one cannot confront such mass directly. In the same way that a tiny tugboat can turn a giant tanker, you approach it from the perpendicular dimension. Again the principal of transcending the unidimensional dichotomy of right-left, finding a vector which the 'traditional' operators never suspected, never heard of, had never imagined.

NO doubt, however, that Barack will be challenged to the extremes of his capacity. I'm praying for him and his family, and for all sentient beings... and I'm not the praying type.

The thing is that the Matrix is not controlled by the President. Unfortunately, it has taken on a will of its own, modeled after that of the private interests which have greatly usurped the commons (see Jefferson's and Madison's concerns about moneyed interests versus democracy)

So, yes, I think he understands that there is only so much one can do. But FDR and TR took on those interests and set them back for a while. It takes a magnificent disaster for the People to wake-up sometimes....

You gotta love it, though, when GWB says yesterday "Capitalism is not broken..."
Oh. My. God. Now the SH*T must REALLY be gonna hit the fan!