Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Hillary Meets Orwell With Surprising Resonance

I completely misjudged the impact of this one.

My sister emailed me early yesterday to check out Vote Different, a slick mashup of Apple's 1984 commercial and Sen. Clinton's presidential campaign announcement.

In my years at Apple I'd seen more parodies and mashups of 1984 than I can remember. For Marketers, riffing on 1984 is about as common and trite as comedians riffing on The Wizard of Oz. So my first reaction was to dismiss it as yet another 1984 ripoff.

Oh, was I wr... wr... wr...

Over the last 24 hours, Vote Different has gone hockey-stick, with well over a million views. Last night Olbermann devoted an entire segment to it, running it continuously as cheap B-roll.

There's something about Hillary as a droning Big Sister that sticks. Whoever authored this piece gets the grammar of media, and the power of resonance. A fine example of Tony Schwartz's key insight: the most powerful communication is something that resonates with what you already know, feel, and believe. Even though Vote Different leeches the insight, design, and production investment that Apple made with Chiat/Day and Ridley Scott back in 1984, let's not forget that the original ad was leeching on the resonance of Orwell's novel and imagery.

Mickeleh's Take: The tagline of Vote Different promises that we'll see why 2008 won't be like 1984. Not so. In our new political and media world every year will be like 1984.

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6 comments:

Ben said...

I find this ad very suspicious.

The soundbites seem to be completely wrong for the ad. I realize there is a certain irony in the original, which juxtaposes "we shall prevail" with the throwing of the hammer. But in the original, the voice has an obviously evil quality to it. These soundbites are Hillary's explicit attempt to come across as a regular person, having a "conversation" with each of us individually, whereas the original ad speaks of "one people, one will, one resolve, one cause," and "a garden of pure ideology where each worker may bloom, secure from the pests of any contradictory thoughts." Meanwhile, the Hillary soundbite says "I don't want people who agree with me." Also, the image of big brother is dark, and blends in with the dark wall in the original commercial, while the imagine of Clinton is bright white, an aberration in the monolithic room

If I had to guess at the source of this video, I would bet it came from the Clinton campaign. Imagine seeing it without any knowledge of the original. Most people probably don't remember the original all that well. Here is an alternative interpretation of the Clinton video: Clinton is trying to awaken people who have become used to politics as a competitive sport, or partisan war, rather than a discussion, an exchange of ideas, about how to make everyone better off. Hillary says that it's "really good" that "so far, we haven't stopped talking." However, some evil forces don't want you to keep talking. Right before the hammer is thrown, the text on the screen over Hillary reads, "this is our conversation." The next time we see the screen, a smiling Hillary again says she "hopes to keep this conversation going," just before the sledge hammer smashes into the screen. In the original ad, following the initial explosion as the sledgehammer crashes into the screen, we hear a light, cool breeze, suggesting freedom. This sound appears to have been slowed down in the Clinton video, lowering the pitch and suggesting the cold wind of emptiness and despair. By this point we are really wondering who would be so evil as to want to end "our conversation." We then see a bright white screen which says, "On January 14th, the Democratic primary will begin. And you'll see why 2008 won't be like '1984.'" Note that 1984 has a significance in presidential politics quite apart from Orwell's book. 1984 was the year Walter Mondale, running as an unabashed liberal, lost every state in the nation except Minnesota. The white screen, associated with Clinton, promises a different outcome in 2008, until it is covered over by a pitch black screen bearing Barack Obama's web address. It must be he who wishes to end the conversation.

Michael Markman said...

Ingenious interpretation. So, you see this as a pro-Hillary, anti-Obama sopt?

I'll agree that Hillary's words are totally at odds with the copy that Steve Hayden wrote for Big Brother
in the Apple spot. But I believe that the imagery trumps the dialog.

An enslaved, drab, head-shaved crowd marches in lock step to hear a speech from a big face on a big screen. A hammer-thrower runs in, chased by security troops, and she busts up the transmission. A new wind blows.

Oh, for a test-screening and an instant focus group to see how many viewers think that the real liberator is the face on the screen and not the hammer-thrower.

Ben said...

I don't think it's as simple as viewers having one interpretation or the other. If asked, I believe that the vast majority would say it is an attack ad against Clinton. However, the genius of the strategy, if it does, in fact, come from the Clinton campaign, is that this is by design, and helps to sully Obama's "above politics" image. Ideally, viewers see this as an attack ad from someone connected with Obama against Hillary, who they feel sympathetic towards for the various reasons I've mentioned.

Michael Markman said...

Ah. So, this is a variation of the slams against David Geffen's remarks to Maureen Dowd. The Hillary strategy vs. Obama is to bring him down to earth.

Hmmm. I get the logic, but isn't it a very round-the-corner shot?

Do you think we'll find out who made this video? (I mean, other than Ridley Scott.)

Ben said...

I tend to think we probably won't. Interestingly, in an email to a techpresident.com, "ParkRidge47", who claims to be an Obama supporter, mentions Geffen, saying "A friend suggested the idea after reading a New York Times article about the Clinton's campaign bullying of donors and political operatives after the Geffen dustup." The whole email is at http://www.techpresident.com/node/130 if you are interested.

Michael Markman said...

Further commentary from the author of the video. He's Phil de Vellis and he talks about it on Huffington Post.