Thursday, May 7, 2009

Gutter: More on the over-wrought front

In the aftermath of the first televised debate, I wrote two weeks ago about how Patrick Dowd’s shot at the pay-to-play culture in Pittsburgh missed the mark slightly because it was somewhat overwrought/over-worded/over-spoken. I argued that Dowd’s claim - which I agree with - would have been more effective if issued in simpler terms.

It’s not dumbing down your position; it’s making it more effective.

Now we get this from the Dowd campaign:

So let’s look at that.

“Luke Ravenstahl is making headlines for the wrong reasons, and it’s turned into a national embarrassment.”

Seems like an okay start, even if we ignore the fact that when the words “National embarrassment” are on the screen, they’re backed up by an image of an article by Rich Lord in the Post-Gazette.

“First, Luke’s 1,000-dollar trash cans.

Visuals: “Ridicule nationwide;” a trash can with a $1,010 price tag; and a USA Today article with the headline “Pittsburgh mayor puts his name on 250 trash cans.”

“Then, his risky Wall Street-style bond deal that cost taxpayers millions and put our city in more financial peril.”

Since most people in the city don’t really understand what the bond deal is - myself included - I suppose a six-second mention (from :10 to :16) isn’t really going to change anyone’s opinion on the matter.

“Now, Luke’s done it again, embarrassing himself nationally by taking credit for tax cuts he actually voted against…twice.

Which is backed up by an AP release headlined “Pittsburgh mayor apologizes for misleading campaign ad in which he touted mandated tax cuts,” with Los Angeles Times and Baltimore Sun logos floating around.

“It’s time to end the waste and political games. It’s time for Patrick Dowd.”

And those are all good points. Dowd picked his biggest issues - incompetence, misuse of taxpayer funds, and a lack of accountability and transparency - and jammed them all into a 30-second ad.

And by the end of it, what is the general impression the viewing public is supposed to come away with? I guess it’s that Luke Raventsahl has embarrassed the city of Pittsburgh on a national scale, and that’s why the people should elect Patrick Dowd.

Because anyone outside the 412 area code really gives a damn about Pittsburgh. Seriously. I watched The Hills Monday night and all that L.C. could talk about was how she couldn’t get over the fact that Ravenstahl has been trumpeting the tax cuts that he actually voted against…twice.

Okay, that’s a bad example. But have Ravenstahl’s antics really caused that much of a stir nationally? Maybe he made some waves for being so young when he took office, and maybe the Tiger Woods thing got a little attention. But we’re not talking about Kwame Kilpatrick here. Hell, even the mayor of Braddock seems to have gotten more national press than Ravenstahl.

So while Ravenstahl is something of an embarrassment to all of us living in the city, I’m just not sure that that’s the best angle to take in a campaign ad. There are so many things you could use as ammo to fire at the Mayor, but somehow the embarrassment claim just seems to miss the mark.

But I think the presentation of this ad is just as much of a problem, if not more. As I alluded to earlier, there’s a lot of info jammed into the 30-second spot (like the :06 appropriation of the bond deal). Upon posting video of the ad, our friend The Pittsburgh Comet made some inquiries into the Dowd camp and generally got this reaction to the ad:

"Luke has done so much awful stuff over the past three years, it was impossible to fit it all in to a 30 second spot."

(The Comet goes into a discussion of other issues that could be touched upon, and that’s a worthwhile read, but I’m going in a different direction.)

The Dowd people are right: it is impossible to fit the Mayor’s three-years’ worth of indiscretions into a 30-secodn spot. So don’t even try. I know you want to talk about garbage cans and bond deals and the political appropriation of tax cuts, but understand the medium you’re working with. 30 seconds is a short amount of time, but the most effective commercials - in any realm, be it political or otherwise - aren’t the ones that attempt to load as much information as possible into the spot. Rather the effective commercial lands a simple, solid blow.

“Under Luke Ravenstahl, Pittsburgh is for sale. Whether it’s illegal billboards, 1,000-dollar trash cans, or illicit sex clubs, the city of Pittsburgh has been open for business at the pleasure of the Mayor and his cronies for the past three years. So it’s up to you to decide who should be in charge of this city: the deep-pockets campaign contributors or the taxpayers, voters, and residents of Pittsburgh?”

Land a strong, solid right and get people thinking about the issue that you think is most important. And then close with something like:

“Because the city can’t afford any more Luke Ravenstahl.”

And boom goes the dynamite.

But instead, the Dowd campaign tried to get as much info and issues into one 30-second spot as possible. Just like when Dowd was asked in the first televised debate if the perception of a pay-to-play culture exists in the city of Pittsburgh and he responded:

“In this culture that we live in, given the administration we have, it’s easy to see that.”

When he could have just as easily hit with a hard “Yes, there are pay-to-play politics in this administration. There are too many dots to connect to feel otherwise.”

Dowd’s not pulling his punches in this campaign; in fact, I think he’s hit the Mayor with a lot of shots, assailing Ravenstahl’s record and integrity (and all with good cause). But the message needs to come through clearer.


Heath said...

So glad to see you back on the stump! I'm going to see a mayoral forum in Oakland in about 10 minutes. Maybe I'll have to post a rival blog over at the Mt.Wash Pipe Club site with my impressions.

Bram Reichbaum said...

Yes, the City for Sale thing would have been pretty good.

I can imagine it must be pretty annoying to be Patrick Dowd and read this kind of campaign criticism. First we beat up on him for being TOO HARD on Luke after the debate controversy (I think I said something about using the sex club and Luke's using April 4th as an excuse in the same release was over the line), then we criticize for being too soft or not hammering the right themes. All the same, this strikes me as a campaign run by the candidate, instead of by clear-eyed (and cold-hearted) professionals.

Peaks and Gutters said...

I just think Dowd could be more concise and assertive in the shots he takes. I get the sense that he wants to stand up and shout "Don't you people see all the ways that this Mayor is bad for the city of Pittsburgh??! Don't you get it??!" And while there's certainly something to be gained in presenting the mass quantity of reasons to not vote for Luke Ravenstahl, there's also something to be said for hitting with a solid single abridged talking point in an ad like the one Dowd released.

Keep in mind, I'm not even close to being any kind of political strategist or campaign worker, and my professional exposure to anything of this sort is nil. But looking at that ad from the couch of a city voter, my personal opinion is that it just tries to do too much.

I think part of that criticism grows from my own personal hope that Dowd can take this election. As such, I watch that ad and think it could have been more effective.

Anonymous said...

Steelerstahl's antics have caused quite a stir up in Meadville, PA. Does adding the 814 area code bump this up to a national embarrassment?

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