Last week, a video from something called "The Future Children Project" broke online. In the black-and-white film, little children sing about a world of oil-filled seas and endless war.
According to The San Francisco Chronicle, the video is a personal project of Jeff Goodby and Richard Silverstein. Mr. Goodby is described as a registered Republican with concerns about the direction the party is heading. Mr. Silverstein is worried about the future.
That's all well and good, but this video has a fundamental problem, one shared with a lot of the work that comes from people trying to "help" a candidate. Let's leave aside the political arguments in the song itself (as if Barack Obama and his new "disposition matrix" hasn't done his part in endless war). Let's also forget the over-reaction from the right about "exploiting" children in a political ad. Here's the million-dollar question:
Who is the target for this ad?
It's too late in the election cycle to run ads meant to rally the troops or generate a fundraising boost. Those with an R behind their names on the registration card are simply going to scoff at it. And I can't imagine it convincing an undecided voter either way. Why? Exposure, for one. So far, it's received a paltry number of views on YouTube, despite links from Drudge and Fox News and other media outlets.
It's also hard to take seriously. Yes, the topics therein are serious. I get that . But the spot is , for lack of a better word, cluttered. It levels so many charges at Republicans that it starts to sound like a "Saturday Night Live" skit. Even if every single charge in the song is true, it's information overload delivered in such a way that one keeps expecting a punchline.
Ultimately, the video sounds and looks like the sort of thing first designed to garner free media impressions -- something shocking and over the top. Like it or not, a successful political ad is quick and hard-hitting. At over two minutes long, this black-and-white video seems made explicitly to catch the eyes of bloggers and media folks.
Now, coastal media people could be forgiven for thinking that the Obama campaign itself has been playing this game, what with the Big Bird and binders-full-of -women spoofs and Lena Dunham commercials (helped, in part, by Mitt Romney's, uh, talent for meme-generation). The campaign is floating some stuff that 's tailor-made for the media class, meant to be funny and meant to show that the campaign is social-media cool. I'd first thought of calling this trend the Gawkerfication of the campaign, but even Gawker's John Cook has decried this tactic, asking for a return to seriousness.
But the fact is , the majority of ads coming from Obama and actually running on TV in markets where non-media-obsessed adults live and vote are simple, hard-hitting spots -- often negative in nature -- hammering Mitt Romney for specific faults.
That's not to say we shouldn't have better political ads. Perhaps we should. Everyone in the ad business likes to bring up "Morning Again in America" and "Bear in the Woods," ads created for the Reagan campaign by Mad Men. But remember that those ads, while containing, striking visuals, also presented simple ideas -- things are getting better, there is a Soviet threat -- in a short amount of time. "The Future Children Project" comes up short in that regard.
People in the industry get excited when our ad greats get involved -- whether directly or indirectly -- with political ads. The thought seems to be that "Mad Men" can bring some sort of dignity or level of art that can't be achieved by the "Beltway Battalion" and all that negative filth they churn out. It's true. Work-a-day political ads won't win any awards, but they might win, you know, an actual election.