Wednesday, September 16, 2009

VIDEO: Do You Feel the No on 1 Ads in Maine Are Hitting Hard Enough? A Comparison to Prop 8 Ads.

To fully appreciate the point of this post, please watch the ads embedded below, even if you've seen them before. It's all about context.

Those of us who had to suffer through the Proposition 8 campaign season remember well the Yes on 8 ads that just wouldn't stop hounding us with misinformation, flat out lies and distortion of the truth. And unfortunately, the Yes on 8 side was brilliant with their messaging, ripping apart our message of equality with four simple words: "What about the children?!"

Who can forget this infamous ad, turning our joyful moment against us?

But even at this point in the campaign, many Californians still weren't sure how marriage equality would affect them adversely, so why not let gays and lesbians marry? Until the death knell rang with these two ads.

(Notice how they zoom in on that child at the end? Look at this one for even FURTHER blatant manipulation of children.)

Suddenly, parents were up in arms. People were scared for their children. They will be indoctrinated! All of a sudden, marriage equality adversely affected everyone and everything - schools, churches, businesses. It stirred up dormant homophobia.

The NO on 8 campaign, lacking funds to keep up until the last month, couldn't hit back. They did get one ad that worked well, according to researched responses (despite the controversy that no gays or lesbians were actually in the ads):

However, after that, it didn't go well. Here's an example at an attempt to respond to the onslaught of Yes on 8 ads, but it was playing defense:

I don't know about you, but I got a "not so fresh feeling" from this ad.

The following ad was done at the last minute in an attempt to frame the debate as a civil rights issue, which changed the messaging of the campaign from equality to civil rights (use of language is oh so important, as well as message discipline. To us, equality and civil rights are the same thing, but that's for us. Our target audience didn't see it that way.)

However, this had the opposite effect of its intent, offending many in the African American community and other people of color by comparing their civil rights struggle to the LGBT civil rights struggle.

Now, keeping our loss in California in mind, view again the official campaign Maine ads from both sides of the issue. Have we learned from our losses? Are we hitting back hard enough? We got the first ads on the air, allowing us to frame the debate how we want it. We can be on the offense. But are we?

First official campaign ad to hit the air was ours. Actually, the NO on 1 campaign kicked off two. (View the first unofficial marriage equality ad in Maine.)

These were on the air for a good week before the Yes on 1 side (aka the Yes on 8 people) began airing theirs yesterday. Who could've guessed that the ad used the same ol' argument that was used here in California? Broken record anybody? (Notice the use of a law professor, same as the Yes on 8 ad above - an authority figure of sorts.)

Today came an immediate response from the NO on 1 campaign. And they deserve a huge round of applause for learning from Prop 8 by responding immediately. However, do you feel it addresses Yes on 1? Does it hit back hard enough? I recall the Yes on Prop 8 campaign playing extremely dirty. Since Yes on 1 is ran by the same people, we can expect them to do it again. Does this response kill such tactics before they begin?

Reporter Rex Wockner, who was "forced to blog" on these ads (and with a domino effect, pushed me to blog), wrote, "They are not hard-hitting. They are high-minded concept ads. They are a repeat of No on 8's mistakes in California. The 1st ad above is decent, showing a real gay family and speaking some truth. But overall: Reboot now. 33% is a failing grade."

I feel I must agree. The first ad was good. It framed the debate by showing REAL Mainers (NOT actors), real gays and lesbians with their families, faces that will be harmed by vetoing the marriage equality law. It portrayed the cherished Maine mantra of "live and let live" and that Maine doesn't need outside influence telling what it should do. (Something Mainers hate!)

But we knew. We knew what the opposition was going to say. "They're going to force this on you whether you like it or not." "You're children will be taught homosexual marriage is ok in schools!" "Your churches, your businesses will be sued!" Basically saying we harm children and society in general.

Shouldn't we have had an ad on the air already addressing these specific concerns before the Yes on 1 opened their lying mouths? Shouldn't we have had an authority figure who demands respect, who is from Maine, discounting all the forthcoming arguments? (Gov. Baldacci comes to mind.)

Yet, in our rebuttal to the Yes on 1 side, we repeat ourselves. Sticking to "outsiders are going to ruin Maine" theme isn't going to work if Mainers agree with the outsiders.

And believe me, plenty do!

We need to kill their arguments before they even voice them. We need to tell Mainers, "You're going to hear that marriage is going to be taught in schools, but you have the power to decide that yourself in your districts. You're going to hear that your church is going to be sued, but you already have protections in place by law. The other side is going to try and confuse this issue, to state things that are not in the law. They want to mislead you. They will lie to you.

"This is not about curriculum, not about religion. What this is about is civil marriage for all. It's about protecting families. It's about being fair."

But that's just a start. It's got to hit harder. Expose the lies as lies. Like this one. And this one, and so many more.

No one likes being lied to. I have a feeling Mainers will be pissed. I think we should tell them. Don't you?

The NO on 1 campaign is doing amazing work. I support it wholeheartedly and am very happy with what I am seeing, especially compared to the No on 8 campaign. But I see room for improvement. I see that we can win. And we don't have much time. I'd rather speak up now than regret being silent later.

Keep up the great work Maine. Now go expose those lies!

Recommended Reading: Marrige Equality Ad Battles Begins in Maine.


  1. I don't know why this is so difficult for us. We knew what to do in 1978: directly address and counter the lies being told about us.

    For those interested in a comparison between the No on 8 campaign and the Briggs 1978 campaign:

    I think it is useful to remember that in 1978, the polls were against us and the professionals thought we were going to lose. With Harvey Milk and many many others being open about who we are and by countering, and countering loudly, all those christian lies about us, we won with 59% of the vote. Why have we forgotten what works.

    We are going to lose Maine; We deserve to.

  2. The URL was cut off:

  3. I'm inclined to agree -- Maine's rebuttal ad is all over the map, very general, and doesn't really frame the conversation.

    I'd really like to see ads with JUST teachers and JUST lawyers talking about voting No On 1, instead of an all-over-the-map approach.

  4. Sorry, I completely disagree. As an initial matter, you are missing an ad. No on 1 allies ran another ad that is not included in your post. So that is 3 of our ads to 1 of theirs. We were on the air 3 weeks before our opposition, in contrast to Prop 8.

    You say:
    "Shouldn't we have had an ad on the air already addressing these specific concerns before the Yes on 1 opened their lying mouths?"

    Absolutely not. That would be exactly the wrong way to go. You do not lead with a rebuttal. That may feel satisfying, but it only comes off as defensive to the viewer who is not as invested in this issue as we are, and effectively allows your opponent's objections to frame the debate. Starting off with an ad that says "This has nothing to do with schools!" would make the debate about schools. The first wave of ads is supposed to be soft and introductory. It puts a human face on the issue and lets the view know that this is not about abstract discrimination but about real families. The Putnam ad and the ad that is omitted from this post do that well. The Whittle ad is muddled and ineffective.

    It is the Yes ad that is all over the map. Rather than focus on each objection in separate ads, as Yes on 8 did, this ad folds everything into one. In 30 seconds, that professor talks about litigation, religious freedom and schools. The effect of cramming everything in, as was seen in the Gathering Storm ad by NOM, is to diminish each objection.

    Our rebuttal ad, I think, was just about right. It rebuts - using a real Mainer and the images from the previous ads of real families - but it doesn't attempt a legalistic line-by-line rebuttal. Actually, No on 8 did put on such an ad, using a CA education official. This ad is not included in your post. The predictable result was yet another ad from Yes on 8 and sure enough all we were talking about was schools. No on 1 is trying to avoid that trap. Based on polling data and the next Yes ad, it might be necessary to adjust, but I think the first rebuttal ad is right on.

    I understand why everyone is so worried about reliving Prop 8. But frankly nothing about No on 1 to date is similar, including their 24-hour turnaround time for the rebuttal.

  5. @ Rem:

    "We are going to lose Maine; We deserve to."

    That is a disgusting comment. Really. Because you don't like one rebuttal ad, we "deserve" to lose marriage equality in Maine? Thank God you are not running the show.

    Also, Prop 6 in 1978 was not popular in the polls. That is precisely why Carter and Reagan both felt comfortable opposing it. So you are not only vile, but uninformed as well.

  6. i think the no on 1 is great blow up there air ways with ads!

    they are doing a way better job and we need to learn from them here in ca for the 2010!

    i live here in the central valley and i didn't see any! ads till that friday before the tuesday vote!

    we need to be the 1st ones out there and we need to keep pushing..

    but we need to some how let the people of maine know that the yes on 1 game is getting old and that they have been using the same since prop 6!... we know as equality warriors...but the reg folks don't know the history of lies!....

    good luck maine! we need this win! more than anything! jessica porterville ca

  7. Anonymous said, "As an initial matter, you are missing an ad. No on 1 allies ran another ad that is not included in your post. So that is 3 of our ads to 1 of theirs. We were on the air 3 weeks before our opposition, in contrast to Prop 8."

    Actually, I linked to this ad before any of the official campaign ads in the post. However, since it wasn't an official campaign ad, I didn't embed it.

    I take in your points and am glad you responded. This is exactly the kind of dialogue we need. Before, at least here in California, there was none. So first, thank you for taking the time to respond.

    Second, when I put in quotes how we should've stated our case before the Yes side did, I put in quotes meaning that's the message we should put out there along with a soft intro, like the NO on 1 did very well. (I did state the first ad was strong.)

    However, with messaging, you don't flat out state what the other side is going to say in advance. It's all in the subtle wording, subtext and IMAGES!! You can rebut or frame the debate without actually saying what I put in quotes in the post word for word. It's the finesse with language and imagery. You have to undermine the other side's position before they even open their mouths without looking like you're doing it.

    Yes, we need to tailor our ads to Maine. So let's use Maine lawyers and leaders. The teacher was a good touch, but strong leader with deep knowledge of the law giving a direct rebuttal hits harder.

    I give major kudos to the NO on 1 campaign. They're doing amazing work and I keep posting about it. The reason for this post in the first place is because there's a big chance we can win. But there's also a big chance we can lose. I want to win. So I'll speak up now. And in consequence, we have an amazing dialogue about effective messaging in our ads. About effective rebuttal. Something our movement has been lacking . . . until now?

  8. Hey United, this is Anonymous from 12:33 am. I figured I should comment with a username.

    First, I do want to say that - agree or disagree - I do appreciate the dialogue. This blog is excellent. The posts are informative and the analysis is insightful, even when I disagree with it. So first off, thanks for all your efforts in blogging.

    Just a couple of responses to your last comment:

    "So let's use Maine lawyers and leaders. The teacher was a good touch, but strong leader with deep knowledge of the law giving a direct rebuttal hits harder."

    -- As for the use of the teacher v. a lawyer or high-level education official, that is certainly a judgment call. Honestly, I would tend to agree with you that it would be more persuasive to have a heavy hitter dismiss the education argument rather than a teacher. However, I think (but do not know for certain) that this was a deliberate choice by No on 1. They know that No on 8 ran a rebuttal ad that used a CA education official. Given the sophistication of the people running this campaign, I have to think that they focus grouped this and decided that a real Maine teacher was more credible than a lawyer or an education bureaucrat. As I recall, the Yes on 8 people responded to the CA bureaucrat with a further rebuttal ad that used a teacher (or an actress playing a teacher).

    As for whether the rebuttal should be more direct, it is not an unreasonable point. But the problem is that we don't want to get legalistic and we don't want to bog down into a tit-for-tat over schools, not to mention litigation and church tax exemptions. This is precisely what happened in CA.

    I think what they are doing is staying on message and opting for a very fast but generic rebuttal as the first option. (You note that they did not even address the issue of litigation and church tax exemption.) My guess is that if if they see any of these charges gaining traction in the tracking polls, they can do rapid reaction to issue a more direct rebuttal. The one thing they have proven is they can react quickly, unlike No on 8 which waited until too late.

  9. It's been said before, but we need to remember that none of these ads is put on the air before it's demonstrated to be effective in tests before the very audiences we need to reach. With these multi-million ad buys we need to craft messages that work, not ones that make us feel better.

    I am not convinced that repeating and emphasizing the arguments of the other side BEFORE they even make them is a good idea. The way the human mind works, if someone's already inclined to fall for a certain lie, they'll believe it more strongly the more they hear it. --George

  10. I agree about testing. I'm actually not for going what makes us feel "better." We're not our target audience. It's not always best to show gays and lesbians in ads and so forth.

    A question though - with such a quick turn around in the rebuttal from NO on 1, I'm curious was testing was done for it.

    As for framing the debate in advance, again, it's more than just stating what the other side's argument is going to be and cutting it down. It has to subtle but clear. It's subtext, imagery, repeated use of certain language with consistent messaging, etc. Something we have not succeeded in doing in the past. NO on 1 is the best I've seen though, but we need to hit back harder now.

  11. These ads give me an uneasy feeling of deja vu all over again.

    The local Mainer and 'outsider' messages set a good tone because they resonate with Maine sensibilites. But they are superficial and do not address the actual ballot measure nor do they reframe the conversation. The failure to find the core overarching message that is a game changer is troubling.

    We know hard hitting lies will begin rolling out a month before the election when it is difficult to respond.

    It is often too late to test and focus group much of anything at that point. In a defensive campaign it is a serious challenge.

    Advance messaging, to the extent possible, needs to already be complete and, given how predictable the opposition arguments are, messaging needs to ready.

    But a word about focus groups; they often lead to the wrong conclusion, particularly on gay issues. Often people react to how they feel about the ad. This generally pulses the intellectual reaction not the emotional.

    Rather we need to find out how the ad makes them feel. To be effective it must also find a way to tease out the societal discomfort with sex and homosexuality, that will be exploilted by the opposition, and find a way to neutralize or redirect it.

    It is this visceral reaction to injustice and discrmination that we fail to communicate and inspire effectively. And this is a powerful message that resonates everywhere.

    One of the biggest ad mistakes of Prop 8 was the Samuel Jackson piece. It lectured people on how they should think that gay rights are equal to the civil rights struggles of others.

    It wasn't just an ineffective ad, it backfired when Black voters found it offensive to conflate their distinct struggle to ours.

    Anyone familiar with the black community would have predicted such a strong negative reaction. Yet, the argument went, the 'experts' must know better and , when vocal opposition surfaced as it did the second the ad began to air, they were tone deaf.

    Let's not ever let that happen again. We are the experts on the pain of our struggle. It is that pain that moves the hearts and minds of others. And we need to move people out of their comfort zone because, simply put, that is the definition of good emotional messaging.

    While there are differences between CA and Maine, particularly demographics and media centricity, the failure is one Mainers must learn from. The point of an ad is not to tell people how to feel but to enable them to feel it themselves.

    We must arouse the conscience and indignity of a just society.

    What will it mean to kids to have marriage rights ripped away from their gay parents? How does it make people feel to see hate and demonization directed against gay and lesbian kids? How do hate crimes and homphobic bullying that has lead to such high rates of suicide among gay teens, make most people feel?

    [This post is cross-posted with Rex Wockner. If No on 1 in Maine would like to know more about this approach, please get in touch with Phillip. He will in turn put you in touch. I welcome it.]


    An historical note to the other posters, Prop 6 was defeated because we had a mainstream Republican, then-Gov. Ronald Reagan, come out against it and we used it incessantly along with prominent Democrats to portray bi-partisan unified opposition. This helped isolate the radical fringe and turned public opinion.

    By contrast, Prop 8 failed to use the Obama endorsement whatsoever and surrendered him to the opposition who predictably mischaracterized his position.

    I hope Mainers have sought, received and plan to publicize prominent endorsements.