Back in the '90s, when the world had a higher tolerance - or perhaps a better sense of humor - we used to quip that something could be so bad that it's good. That is, something might fail so miserably that it actually has some entertainment value, albeit unintentional.
I've been thinking about this over the past few weeks as I brace myself for the inevitable barrage of bad political ads directed at Latinos. Already the games have begun. But rather than sit back and complain as ads come in, I thought I should help by providing a simple how-to guide on how to make ads that are truly bad. We could all use a little levity this campaign season, and everyone should do their part. It's not as easy as you think to really stink, but if you follow these rules, you'll be on your way:
Translate Directly From English to Spanish
Nothing is funnier than hearing Spanish that's awkwardly spoken. So if you want to make a big impression on Latino voters, take a general English-language campaign theme and run it through the Google Translate. This tells voters what they already expect: that you have a callous disregard for the Spanish language. The Romney campaign may be winning in this category. In a story in The LA Times last week, Alana Semuels quoted several experts who were "impressed" (not) with the campaign's taglines in Spanish language commercials. One was "Van Bien?" a literal translation of "doing fine?" a phrase President Obama used to describe the economy. Another was "Dia Uno" ("Day One") for an ad that talks about what Romney would do on his first day in office. Semuels wrote:
"… some of the phrases in those ads are awkwardly translated, said Melisa Diaz, a Latino media consultant based in Washington, D.C., who has worked for the Democratic National Committee.
'Doing Fine?' would be more accurately translated as 'Las cosas están bien?' Diaz said, while the proper phrase to convey 'the right direction' would be 'la dirección correcta,' not 'la buena dirección,' as used in the ads. And the English idiom 'Day One' would be better if phrased 'El Primer Día,' not 'Día Uno,' Diaz said."
Say Something Offensive to Latinos
While the Romney ads may just be bad - not side-splittingly funny - for my money, bad translations are the way to go. But if you really want to go for the funny bone and amuse Latinos, think hard about embedding a message that is sure to enrage us. A conservative political action committee did just that during the 2010 midterm election (it was actually the subject of my first post for ClickZ). The political action committee (PAC), a little known group called Latinos for Reform, ran videos in English and Spanish that urged Latinos not to vote ("no votes").
There's more here than meets the eye. As I explained in my post, the video ads never ran on the air but over YouTube, creating a faux controversy that might actually have helped the PAC. Despite a super modest budget for paid media, the campaign received an impressive share of "earned media" with all the reporters and bloggers who reacted to the ad and spread the story. And look, I just wrote about it again (whoops). Still, it's unclear whether we can credit the producers with this clever strategy or whether the bad ad simply had an unintended positive effect for their campaign. For me, it certainly had a comic effect ("no votes? -too funny. No mas"). And the overall result for the GOP in that election - they lost badly in several key contests - had many on the left in stitches.
Say Something Offensive to Others
Of course, the GOP is not the only party with bad adsters. The same LA Times article argues that both Republicans and Democrats have "fallen short thus far when it comes to targeting Latino voters electronically." The challenge is knowing how to engage a people who are not just diverse - there is no such thing as the "Latino vote" - but who are also unusually adept in digital, social, and mobile technology. We'll see how the run-up to the election goes, and how comically the parties perform in this new world. But in the meantime, there's the risk that all the attention that Latinos are getting this election cycle may actually backfire with other voters. Ricardo Ramirez, a professor at Notre Dame, told The LA Times, "We know that appearing more inclusive by outreaching toward Latinos seems to work well for immigrants, but it seems to have a negative impact on blacks and whites." I'm not sure I have seen any evidence of that kind of thing happening, but if it did, it would not be funny. It would be tragic. And not just for Hispanics but for everyone.
There's an episode in "Seinfeld" - again I invoke the '90s - where Jerry complains of a comedian that's converted to Judaism "purely for the jokes." Jerry is offended - not as a Jewish person, but "as a comedian." If in their pursuit to court Latino voters, marketers were to drive away other voters, I would mostly be offended as a "marketer." In the meantime, I'll try to keep on my happy face and enjoy the comedy that the new political season promises. Pass me the popcorn, and get yourself a bowl. From the looks of it, it's going to be the best season yet.
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Giovanni Rodriguez is an author, consultant, and public speaker on organizational leadership and digital/social communications. The views expressed in this blog are entirely his own.
March 19, 2014