Missourians for Kander released what is being touted as the best ad of the 2016 political season on September 15th when the ad titled Background Checks, in support of Jason Kander for Senate hit the market, including YouTube.
Why is this political ad being touted as being the best?
Before we break it down here’s a little background his race.
Jason Kander a Democrat is running against Republican incumbent Roy Blunt for one of Missouri US Senate seats. Blunt had an early lead which Kander has been chipping away at over the last few months.
Gun control is a key issue for voters in Missouri and Kander was under attack for being opposed to the second amendment and accused by Senator Blunt’s supporters as having had “voted to take your rights away”
In Background Checks, an ad that not only disputes Blunt’s claims but also go on the attack, Jason Kander takes 24 seconds to deliver 80 words that packs a wallop and produces a message that is punching far above its weight. The full transcript of his message is at the bottom of this article.
So let’s get down to business and break it down.
Made to Stick and SUCCESs
Following the principles put forth by brothers Chip and Dan Heath in their 2007 best seller Made to Stick, we can see that in Background Checks, Kander has all the elements needed for a message to be sticky.
The Heaths neatly summarized those elements with the acronym SUCCESs. Simple, Unexpected, Concrete, Credible, Emotional and Stories. (The last “s’ is lower case for obvious reasons)
A sticky message is simple. A simple message delivers its core meaning using clear tangible language. It is compact to the point of (in the Heath’s words) having profound compactness and taps the existing memory of the audience. Lastly it has to provide just enough information to be useful. The recipient needs to take this information and be able to make a prediction with it.
Kandar gets to the core both in speech and visually. He is telling us he knows guns, respects guns, has used guns (to defend the nation) and provides enough information for the voter to make the prediction that he will defend the second amendment and fight terrorism at the same time.
Compact? In my opinion 80 words in 24 seconds is as compact as you can get. I’d go as far as to say it’s profoundly compact.
Unexpectedness, breaks a pattern to get attention. Here we are "looking to get (surprise) and keep (interest) the attention of the audience". Audiences have been conditioned over time and as a result, expect to see a certain patterns based on circumstances. Unexpected things break the pattern and leave the audience wanting to understand why they have failed to recognize what was going to happen.
Background Checks, goes the unexpected route immediately with a blindfolded Jason Kander standing before a field stripped AR-15 rifle (modified to look like the US Army service issue M-4 rifle that Kander carried in Afghanistan). He proceeds, while blindfolded, to reassemble the rifle while speaking to the camera about his war time experience and his position on gun control.
Not only is the audience caught off guard by this, Kander goes one step further and unexpectedly challenges Roy Blunt to do the same.
Concrete messages carry no abstractions. They use universal language that everyone understands.
The visual elements of Kander’s ad are so effective that even with the sound off the message, “I know guns. I’m not taking guns away. Vote for me for Senate” is loud and clear. Turn off the sound and try it yourself.
There are six sentence in the script and each one delivers a solid concrete piece of information (see transcript below).
For a message to be credible the credibility needs to come from within the message itself. The message needs to have vivid details that ring out and announce “this could be nothing other than true.” The more vivid the details the more the message's credibility is boosted.
As mentioned above there are only six sentences in the ad. Each one is laden with details. I was in the army. I learned about guns in the army. I served in Afghanistan and volunteered for dangerous missions…with my gun, on unarmored vehicles. I supported the second amendment in the state legislature. I’m against terrorists having guns.
Vivid details in every sentence.
Emotional does not mean we need to tug heartstrings but it does mean we need to appeal to the audience’s self-interest and or their perceived identities of self.
Here Kander is making a plea to the sense of patriotism that many pro-gun rights voters have. Not only is he reassembling a rifle while blindfolded, an activity 100% associated with military training, he spends the first half of the ad verbally conveying he is a war veteran who volunteered for a dangerous mission. He taps into the emotional connection the audience has made between him being a veteran and the concept that “patriots support veterans no matter what, especially if they are war veterans who volunteered for a dangerous mission”.
He also deftly tells the voter that Blunt does not have this emotional connection when he says, while holding his reassembled rifle, “I’d like to see Senator Blunt do this”. The real message “I’m a war veteran and not only is Blunt not a veteran, he doesn’t know guns as well as I do.”
What a story does for sticky messages is that it allows the message to illustrate a causal relationship that the audience had not recognized before. It puts knowledge into a framework that is more lifelike and can act as a stimulus to motivate the audience to act.
In this case Background Checks, is illustrating the relationship between Kander’s army and war experience with his support of the second amendment and the fight against terrorism. As a soldier he fought terrorists and will do so in the Senate. In the army he learned to use and respect his rifle, just like pro-gun rights voters know and respect their guns. In the army he was brave, in the Senate he will be brave and work to maintain the second amendment.
Will Kander overtake and defeat Blunt? I have no idea but I do suspect that this powerful, well designed and constructed ad will help Kander close the gap. The message is a SUCCESs.
Here is the transcript (80 words in six sentences making for 24 seconds of dialogue) of Background Checks
I’m Jason Kander, and Senator Blunt has been attacking me on guns. Well, in the Army, I learned how to use and respect my rifle. In Afghanistan, I volunteered to be an extra gun in a convoy of unarmored SUVs. And in the state legislature, I supported Second Amendment rights. I also believe in background checks, so the terrorists can’t get their hands on one of these. I approve this message, because I’d like to see Senator Blunt do this.