Thursday, June 10, 2010

Ads of the Damned: Ron Johnson, "Real World"

Let's kick this off by contrasting the opening TV gambits by the Johnson and the Terrence Wall campaigns. Wall was really nothing more than an extra in his own ad. Even though the narrator was describing Wall's story, by acting out the metaphor of scrapping and repainting an old wall Terrence Wall kind felt like a puppet without any agency and subject to the instructions of an omniscient disembodied voice from above. The whole mise en scene had the effect of making Wall look like an afterthought.

Not Johnson. He is the narrator and the audience's guide through the action of ad, leaving little doubt who's in charge.

The imagery is clearly intended to portray Johnson as a strong leader. I counted 5 shots of B-roll of Johnson giving orders to underlings, scrutinizing details, pointing at stuff like he owns the place (because he, um, does), etc. They're commanding visuals designed to make Johnson look like he's in charge of a working class operation -- he's even literally wearing a shirt with a blue collar while he does so.

Details like wardrobe are important ways to connect with voters. Since he's not an office holder, Johnson's actions in the spot have to look like he's ready to lead, something he pulls off quite effectively in this ad; but he still has to connect with the audience he intends to lead. That's one of the reasons why B-roll of politicians who are running for re-election so often shows them listening to constituents instead of ordering staffers around. I'm sure we'll see shots of Johnson listening to folks at a parade (or something) down the line, but now is the time to announce one's presence with authority.

A few scattered thoughts:

Johnson is at his best when he's speaking direct to camera. When gestures and other actions are required, he has a tendency to ham it up a bit and it looks obvious. That's not uncommon for a first-time actor and only gets better with practice.

Goggles. There's a reason why most politicians avoid eye-wear: it looks like they're hiding behind something. That's just a prejudice the audience assumes when they recognize they are watching a politician speak. I realize Johnson's walking through a machinist's shop and that OSHA regulations require protective eye-wear (and, for that matter, that Johnson actually wears glasses), but these are all things you have to take into account when planning the ad. It's also probably one of the reasons why the ad began with an exterior shot that introduced Johnson to the audience sans goggles, which is a good way of establishing a glasses-free first impression.

Not surprisingly, there's no talk about freedom in this spot.

Final Grade: B


xoff said...

Can't wait for your review of his other, content-free spot which makes fun of content-free spots.

Anonymous said...

I agree with all of your points on what he is trying to do. And yet, I find he still comes off as a weak man. Especially in a blue collar environment. He looks commanding, yes. But it is the authority of the corner office. The manicured control of a Man Made by Money, and not so much a self-made man.
He looks like the guy whose ass you kiss because you have to, because the wife and kids are back home and they count on you, not so much because you really respect OR TRUST his character.

Johnson's strength lies in the fact that he has aligned himself with the Tea Party movement at the time of its ascendancy, the strength does not reside in himself. Hence the unconvincing body language - you can't call upon what isn't there.

If Johnson does well, it will only be because he is body-surfing across the Tea party crowd and nothing else.