Bad ads are rarely an accident. Quite the contrary, sometimes the things most offensive are the very things most planned. Ask GoDaddy. Or perhaps Peter Hoekstra.
Hoekstra’s infamous Asian-bashing xenophobic Super Bowl ad went viral, receiving mention in The Atlantic, the New York Times, the New Yorker and countless other blogs (including those in China). A disaster. And now it’s pulled — a mercy death, surely. Still, it deserves an autopsy, in part because in examining the corpse, we we may be able to see something of the thinking of the Hoekstra campaign and its electoral strategy.
After all, this is a Michigan MBA, the former vice-president of marketing at Herman Miller, a smart guy. So just what was he thinking?
Her Lips say Finance but Her Eyes say Jobs
Advertising works on two levels: there is the direct cognitive message, charged with the main marketing points; then wrapping it are the associations created by allusions, the visuals, the manner of presentation. This latter makes another unspoken argument. When these two go together the effect can be can be quite powerful, as Ronald Reagan’s Morning in America ad demonstrates. The twin message paths also lure political advertisers to create ads with two messages, a nominal message and a “dog whistle” inside message created for some subset of the audience.
And the two message approach seems to be the approach of the Hoekstra ad.
On the face of it (and in subsequent ads, here) Hoekstra goes after Sen. Debbie Stabenow and her (profligate) spending, positioning Hoekstra as a fiscal conservative. This is actually boring and forgettable. The images, the emotional vehicle is something else again.
The “dog whistle” is about jobs.
For all the mocking tone of our debt to China, in Michigan the issue of the economy is less that of finance than of manufacturing. The story of the past decade is the near-death of domestic auto manufacturing, the loss of 800,000 jobs from GM alone; a story of shuttered factories, faltering communities, and nation-leading unemployment.
It goes to the gut.
And that seems to be what Hoekstra was looking to do: a two-fer. Nominally, this was going to be an ad about Debbie Stabenow and her (profligate) ways and positioning Hoekstra as a fiscal conservative. A good message for the managerial suburbs like those of eastern Kent County or Oakland County. Underneath, in visuals a different emotional message was going to be told, one aimed at the working class suburbs of Muskegon, Wyoming, Downriver or Macomb County.
In looking at the presentation of this appeal, we can see the subset Hoekstra was hoping to reach. Read the rest of this entry »