It ends with her latest slogan, “Solutions for America.” The point is to make our profound political problems sound not just solvable but amenable to crisp, technical, incremental activity. “Solutions” is the corporate buzzword, the sticker slapped on every high-tech company and marketing gambit: HP Solutions, Energy Solutions, Debt Solutions Group, or American Solutions for Winning the Future, Newt Gingrich’s new “nonpartisan” 527.
Too Cool for President?
I’ve no doubt that Obama is a “solutions” kind of guy himself. But in terms of bursts of creativity, his has been the best ad campaign of the primaries. Obama isn’t selling himself like soap flakes — he’s more like Red Bull, or maybe a skateboarding movie.
His most effective spots are about crowds and movement. In his biggest, baddest ad — and I don’t mean the glorious “Yes We Can” video, independently produced by Will.i.am of the Black Eyed Peas — Obama practically sets his axe on fire. Shown on local cable during the Super Bowl and now in upcoming primary states, “Join” opens with a pounding rock track, intercutting scenes of pulsing young crowds rallying for him with quick shots of Hummers burning in Iraq, post-Katrina devastation, and polluting smokestacks as words stream across a black screen in and out of boldface: “We can END a WAR,” “We can SAVE the PLANET,” closing with “Change begins with you.” The contrast with the benevolent mom who will pull your ripcord or hand out presents like “universal pre-K” and “middle-class tax cuts,” as Clinton literally did in her Christmas spot, could not be clearer.
Texting and jump-cuts and a subjective camera focused on a stovepipe-thin candidate are all great things in advertising, but keying off the real enthusiasm Obama has engendered is why these ads work. As he says, it’s not just about him. A quarter-century of cynical manipulation has damaged the individual, personal dream of what America can mean to us and the world. People accuse Obama of being vague and airy, but that’s what the American Dream always was — he just recognizes that that’s where we hurt the most.
Much as we’ve seen the other candidates awkwardly try to graft the Obamafied word “change” to their rhetoric, we might begin to see imitative bits of his cool spliced and diced into their ads, especially Clinton’s. Before the crucial Ohio and Texas primaries on March 4, there are three weeks of intense, do-or-die advertising to come.
Leslie Savan is the author of Slam Dunks and No-Brainers: Pop Language in Your Life, the Media, and, Like . . . Whatever.