Thursday, March 10, 2016

From the other side

When I shared the videos supporting changing the NZ flag, I said I’d share any ads supporting the current flag “if possible”. Well, a few can be shared, and here they are in all their glory.

To say I’m not a fan of these videos would be a huge understatement, and not just because I take the opposite position: I think the first two are utterly terrible, both as advocacy ads and even just ads in general. Nevertheless, I did promise to share what I found, and these are all I’ve seen so far.

First up is the video at the top of this post, “The Letter . Keep Our Flag‬”, with that weird full-stop in the middle of the title. I don’t know if it was meant to go after “letter” or if it was to be a bullet separating the two parts. As someone who confronts others’ typography sins all the time, this made the video get off to a bad start with me.

The content is abysmal, hitting viewers with overly wrought sentimentalism with all the subtlety of a sledgehammer. Emotion and sentimentalism both can work very well in political advertising, but it works best when its restrained and at least a little subtle: The narrator reads a letter to her dead father who was a soldier as a choir sings the NZ national anthemion the background, and the current flag flutters away as the visual. My first reaction was that it was unbelievably smarmy, but then I realised that it seemed unable to decide which point to promote as a reason to vote for the current flag/against the alternative. The ad could have made an appeal to patriotism (a risky move in NZ, though), or facts, but muddling them together was jarring.

I have no idea who made the ad up top, but it was on the YouTube Channel of a New Zealand documentary maker who, somewhat ironically, was condemned by the ruling conservative National Party for a documentary he’d made on child poverty in New Zealand that was aired just before the election. If he made “The Letter”, it seems a bit out of character, and not up to his usual standards.

The next video, just above, is “Lest We Forget : The Real Flag HD- Read By Ian Mune‬” (again with the weird punctuation spacing!). It’s actually the first pro-current flag video I saw. The documentary maker said on YouTube, “I was sent this moving recording of Ian Mune OBE reading the poem Lest We Forget-a tribute to our flag. So I thought I'd post it so you can share it with your friends and family in the lead up to the flag referendum.” It was posted on February 22, but I didn’t see it until the past few days. This video is even worse than the one up top.

Ian Mune is a well-known New Zealand actor (he was, of course, in Lord of the Rings…). To my mind, there’s nothing more boring than watching someone read a script, however, fans of the current flag would probably like it, and that’s fine: Everyone has different tastes. However, as an advocacy video it’s an utter failure, unable to make its case in a way that could persuade. Personally, I find the poem awfully twee, not “moving” in any sense whatsoever—unless me rolling my eyes at the banality of it counts as “moving”. Again, differing tastes, and all that.

In fairness, I doubt very much that “Lest We Forget” was ever intended as an ad—it was probably just intended for those who’d already made up their minds to vote for the current flag, which is fair enough: There’s no reason why supporters of the current flag shouldn’t have some “feel good” messages. But if it was intended to win over people, it failed miserably in that role.

The reason I include the second video is because of the next video, below: “Lest we forget the New Zealand flag”. The guy who made it said, “I found the original video of him to be so moving that I put some pictures and music (points if you can pick it) to it.”

This video is too long for a TV ad, of course, but as an advocacy video, it’s actually good—the only decent pro-current flag ad I’ve seen so far. It takes that dreary and twee poem read by Ian Mune and adds a simple music score as wells as images that illustrate what the poem was talking about (some of which could be useful for non-New Zealanders who see it, especially if they saw the original first).

The use of the images was particularly good—not relying merely on patriotic images alone as the first video did. New Zealanders are not an overtly patriotic people, so mixing the visuals appealing to patriotism with others makes the appeal to patriotism much more subtle, and that, in turn, helps keep the emotionalism and sentimentality more subtle and controlled, as they should be for an advocacy ad to be effective. However, I do have one criticism: The music track was too loud, and that created some aural confusion that was distracting. On the whole, though, a good job.

I saw all three videos before I voted, and, obviously, none of them persuaded me, which probably wasn’t their aim. However, of the three, only the last one had any chance of persuading someone who was truly undecided and who also cared about voting (those don’t necessarily go together). I doubt that anyone would be persuaded by any of the ads for or against change, though, because I just don’t think most New Zealanders care all that much about the referendum.

We still have a couple more weeks of voting to go.

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