A shockingly good campaign ad you'll never see

Bill White's web-only spot is a simple yet radical departure from this cycle's torrent of nuclear personal attacks

Published October 26, 2010 7:35PM (EDT)

Adam Hanft dissects and deconstructs political advertising at Spin Season, where this originally appeared

I borrowed this headline idea from a piece by Veronica Flores-Panlagua posted in the San Antonio News, where I also discovered the sadly unviewed gem.

The web-only commercial is for Bill White, who’s challenging Governor Rick Perry of Texas. It’s about something that everyone knows is a national crisis, but has been shoved to the side this year: Education.


Powerful, huh? It’s a gripping yet lyrical message that reminds us why some kids drop out and others don’t. And there’s no pedantic hectoring about the importance of staying in school; it uses gently unfolding images that roll up to an emotional punch in the gut.

This spot was created and shot by Ralph Lopez and Ya’Ke, two Texas filmmakers who were asked “by the Bill White campaign to produce spots” supporting his candidacy, as Flores-Panlagua noted.

What a simple yet radical departure it is, a different species from the rest of this cycle’s torrent of nuclear personal attacks, wildly amplified rhetoric and serial distractions.

It’s actually the kind of commercial that a sophisticated marketer might create to sell a “product” – in this case, the product is the importance of parent and teacher involvement in the lives of young people. That’s because the concept is a modern and minimalist narrative that beckons viewers with a seductively unfolding story, rather than harassing them into attention. It transcends politics by activating deep emotional reservoirs. It’s the way a lot of advertising works today – it’s stylish, attitudinal, involving – it trusts the viewer to stay with it, with the implicit promise of a worthwhile pay-off.

I’ve seen hundreds of commercials this cycle, and this is the first one that addresses the national embarrassment that is our education system. Yet – putting aside immediate pocketbook issues like the economy and taxes – education consistently shows up in polls as a deep and abiding concern.

And we all know they are related. If we don’t educate our children, we can’t create and fill good jobs, we can’t be globally competitive, and we can’t grow our tax base fast enough to prevent China from continuing to own our debt – as the now famous "Chinese Professor" spot warns us of.

But out of the more than three billion – that’s billion – being spent on political advertising, I’d venture that less than one percent is being spent on messages about education. There’s a complete absence of even heavy-handed, blunt, incendiary messages. The pollsters must think that as much as we talk about it, we don’t really care deeply. (There are just over 2,000 views on the Bill White YouTube video.)

Everyone keens over the slash-and-burn attack tactics of the 2010 election cycle. But education’s no-show role in the current national conversation is the year’s enduring scandal.

By Adam Hanft

Adam Hanft writes and comments frequently on politics and culture for The Daily Beast, Fast Company, Huffington Post, CNN, Fox News, Politics Daily, the Barnes & Noble Review, and elsewhere. He is founder of Hanft Projects, a strategic and brand consultancy.

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2010 Elections Advertising Education Media Criticism Rick Perry Texas War Room