September 12, 2008
Dear Barack Obama:
In front of the WWII Memorial in downtown Brooklyn, city dwellers play with their children just like suburbanites and exurbanites. Those of us who live in cities are authentic Americans, too.
Yes, of course I’ll vote for you in November. I don’t think there’s any question about the superiority of your qualifications to run this country. But since John McCain announced his choice of running mate two weeks ago, I’ve been worried that, for all the genius that went into the crafting of your brand, you are losing the image-making war. I don’t expect you to take up snowmobile racing. I don’t think that’s necessary. I do think that you need to make better commercials. Much better commercials.
Sure, you have to go after McCain and Palin when they lie — and they do that a lot — and drive home the message that they represent “more of the same.” (Although I’ve come around to thinking that their White House could actually be worse than Bush’s). But you also need to make people feel good about voting for you. And I don’t think your ads do that.
The ultimate feel good ad was, unfortunately, Reagan’s 1984 Morning in America. Even though I didn’t vote for him, couldn’t possibly have voted for him, the ad gave me goosebumps. Watching it today, it still does. It is a stunning piece of propaganda.
Since you are running against the current state of the nation, you can’t exactly do a Morning in America.
Which is why I think a better model might be the campaign Errol Morris did for United Airlines in 2001, shortly after 9/11. The ads were interviews with United employees talking in a very personal way about how much they love to fly. The ads were beautiful, heartrending, and I felt more goodwill toward United when they aired than at any time before or since.
You know that line in your convention speech? America, we are better than these last eight years. We are a better country than this. You need to get Errol Morris, or someone equally good, to make commercials that show how we can be “a better country than this.” You need to make ads that will make viewers feel as good as we all did on that last night of the convention, after your speech was over.
Can you do that? Please.
P.S. Roughly 80 percent of us live in cities and suburbs. We are not a nation of caribou hunters. We need an powerful, iconographic political language that reflects who we truly are.