I Approve These Photos

August 23, 2012

Everything about political ads is carefully considered, so it’s interesting to interpret the meaning of the photos chosen by each candidate to appear while they’re saying “…I approve this message.” Since that picture appears at the beginning or end of each of every ad, it's an important part of a candidate's brand.

President Obama’s picture is actually a video, a slow motion shot of him ambling down a colonnade outside the White House. He is looking down at the start, but raises his gaze and looks beyond the columns. His expression is serious. The main message seems to be that this man is serious, in charge, and carefully considering the future into which he is gazing. He is, the setting reminds us, your president.

I think there’s a second message, too, though maybe I’m imagining it. His slow, easy stride reminds us that that this guy is cool. Not just that he's cool under pressure, but that it’s cool for us as a country to have this young, smart guy as President of the United States. The image seems to ask us if we really want to go back to the line of boring men who can’t fill out an NCAA bracket or make the rest of the world swoon.

Governor Romney’s chosen image is a still photo. The most important thing about it is that he’s not alone, he’s got his wife Ann by his side. Since Romney is a bit stiff, and maybe little less likely to engender warm feelings from voters, the campaign is using Mrs. Romney to warm us up. (From what I can tell, she is well suited to the task – a nice woman who has dedicated her life to her five kids and has overcome difficult medical issues.) And they are holding hands.

As for Romney himself, they’ve caught his hair in a rare moment of disarray. If part of his problem is stiffness, the perfectly still helmet of hair that normally sits on his head is probably not helping. So maybe his handlers, unable to get him to let it down a bit, are reminding voters that there’s a relaxed guy under that business-like outer shell.

Check here for regular observations on the 2012 presidential campaign and political history, as well as new clips from The Bigger Hammer. Follow @TheBiggerHammer on Twitter to find out when new excerpts are released and where you’ll be able to see the whole film.

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