The antiwar ad MTV won't air

Watch it here, and decide if you agree with our ad critics that it's "cool and hip" or "too preachy and self-righteous."


Suzy Hansen
March 15, 2003 1:00AM (UTC)

It was reported Thursday that MTV won't air Not in Our Name's latest antiwar ad, directed by two-time Academy Award-winning documentary filmmaker Barbara Kopple. The Viacom-owned MTV pointed to its policy against airing advocacy commercials from interest groups, a principle shared by various networks and cable channels.

Still, Not in Our Name managed to get support from some local cable providers, and audiences in New York and Los Angeles can catch the ad -- featuring images of antiwar marches and "on the street" commentary from young people voicing opposition to the war -- on MTV programs "Total Request Live" and "Direct Effect."

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Bob Garfield is the advertising critic for Advertising Age, co-host of NPR's "On the Media" and author of "And Now a Few Words From Me: Advertising's Leading Critic Lays Down the Law, Once and for All."
Putting aside Viacom's decision not to run it, and the spot's disinclination to confront the implications of inaction, as advertising, this PSA just isn't very good. Barbara Kopple is a brilliant documentarian, but she breaks the first rule of reaching young people: Never use other young people to tell them how to think or behave. The ad is way too preachy and self-righteous, leaving the viewer no room for personal reckoning. A better tack might have been to focus on teenage Iraqi conscripts who, through no fault of their own, are about to die.

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Warren Berger is the author of the book "Advertising Today" and writes for Business 2.0.
This ad is crafty. It takes an approach similar to those very successful "Truth" teen anti-smoking ads -- relying on gritty authentic scenes of street protests, while playing to young people's sense of powerlessness, and inviting them to join a movement that looks like a rave party. This could be effective in motivating some kids to take action (perhaps not so much out of principle, but just because they don't want to be left out of a current happening).

But there are two things that bother me about the ad. It feels like it was scripted by people who want to relive the '60s (one kid even utters the line "the whole world is watching"). And like a lot of targeted advertising, it aims to divide, not unite -- which is a shame. The interesting thing about the current antiwar sentiment is that it's fairly broad, and includes soccer moms and business executives, as well as kids. It would be nice if the ad acknowledged this, and invited everyone to speak up. But then again, if everyone is invited to the "party," it might not be cool enough to draw the MTV crowd.

Freelance journalist Anthony Vagnoni is the former creative editor of Advertising Age.
Whatever happened to Rock the Vote? MTV used to express a liberal, activist mind-set for its viewers; now all it seems to advocate is mindless beer guzzling during spring break and the endless kvetching of "The Osbournes." This commercial is a pretty straightforward piece, not that much different than the youth-oriented anti-tobacco "Truth" ads being funded by the American Legacy Foundation (although the "Truth" spots boast much better production values). Banning this ad reveals just how far MTV has fallen from the idealistic days when it used to send junior journalists to cover political conventions. This was the network that invited candidate Bill Clinton to discuss the issues -- now, it invites hip-hop stars to show us their sumptuous "cribs," sponsors unabashed stupidity with "Jackass," and glorifies bed-hopping with "Undressed." Then again, perhaps MTV knows just what its audience wants. Among college kids, outspoken political protest seems to be a thing of the past.

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Laura Ries co-authored "The Fall of Advertising and the Rise of PR," "The 22 Immutable Laws of Branding" and "The 11 Immutable Laws of Internet Branding" with her partner and father Al Ries. Together they run Ries & Ries, a marketing strategy firm in Atlanta, Ga.
As a private enterprise, MTV has every right to decline to run the Not in Our Name advocacy commercial. Now that it is banned, however, the spot will probably get more media attention than if it ran on MTV. So everybody wins. The possible war in Iraq is an important moment in history and airing both sides of the issue in the media may not change many minds, but it will make everyone feel better.

Glenn W. Richardson is an assistant professor of political science at Kutztown University of Pennsylvania, and the author of "Pulp Politics: How Political Advertising Tells the Stories of American Politics," published in 2003 by Rowman and Littlefield.
MTV's policy against airing political advocacy advertising (such as the antiwar spot produced by Not in Our Name) may serve its corporate interests but it represents an unfortunate narrowing of political debate at a time when our democracy is best served by the free and vigorous exchange of ideas. That other, opposing views were also denied airtime only magnifies the problem. MTV, according to a corporate spokesperson, fears that accepting advocacy would open it to "accepting every point of view on every subject." Setting aside the point that not everyone can afford MTV's ad rates, this policy may ultimately erode some of the network's remaining credibility with its audience. More people may ultimately learn of the decision not to air the ad than would have seen the ad had it run. Given MTV's claims to rebellious authenticity, that could be bad for the very bottom line the company seeks to protect.

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The ad itself is done in the fast-paced style the network pioneered, and relies more on cool and hip than reasoned persuasion to make its case. Still, it is a visually and aurally appealing presentation of sincere youthful resistance to the war. The ad visually communicates resistance at the street level with its quick cuts of marchers and young people on the street speaking to the camera, while interspersed images of tanks, troops and high-tech weapons provide ominous punctuation. The short phrases spoken with youthful earnestness and intensity pierce through the frenetic scenery ("There is no positive outcome to this war," "... kill people who look just like me," "They don't listen to us"). Nevertheless, if this ad offends viewers (or advertisers), it seems to me that then the question is, what exactly is it about free speech and debate in democracy that they don't like?


Suzy Hansen

Suzy Hansen, a former editor at Salon, is an editor at the New York Observer.

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