Thursday, April 15, 2010

Responsive Chord

For many years I taught an Introductory Mass Media Class. I used as one of my texts, The Responsive Chord by Tony Schwartz. Schwartz, an old-time radio ad man, is remembered most for the famous Daisy Spot which helped put Lyndon Johnson back in the White House.

The spot only showed once on the popular Sunday Night Movies, the Sunday evening before the election. The ad raised a big fuss because it played on a responsive chord playing among citizens who had been hearing Barry Goldwater declare for months that "extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice" The implied threat by Goldwater told voters that he would press the nuclear trigger first against the Russians and Communists.

Here's how Schwartz laid out the ad. The opening scene shows a little blond girl in a field of daisys. She is pulling the petals one by one, like "loves me" or "loves me not." But with each petal pull, a voice-over counts down from 10 to 1. Then a nuclear bomb destroys everything, the little girl and all the daisys in the field. President Johnson's voice concludes the ad with something like, "you better be careful who you vote for president." The line implied that Goldwater would start a nuclear war, "just let me get my index finger near that button."

Even Colorado went for Johnson in that election. Republicans fumed over the Daisy Spot, saying it was untrue and unfair. The Democrats cleverly responded that they did not even mention Goldwater's name.

The American Lung Association asked Schwartz to come up with an anti-smoking ad. He did not show damaged lungs, seared fingers, or folks spitting up blood. Schwartz showed two kids in a house playing in the attic. The little girl puts on the white wedding veil from grandma. The little boy puts on the top hat and black coat from grandpa's wedding. The final shots show the kids walking toward the sun shining through the attic window. A voice then says: "Kids love to imitate adults. Do you smoke?" The Association reported they got more calls on how to stop smoking from that ad than any other. Schwartz hit the responsive chord among even smokers that they smoked but they cared about their children and did not want to see the kids take up smoking.

So campaigns can learn lots about hitting the responsive chord. But trying to find out what themes hit the responsive chord with the voters is the question. Republicans tried to build up a base for a responsive chord against the recent health care legislation, but polls show that they have missed the mark.

I left a copy of Schwartz's book at Regis Library. See if you can hit a responsive chord.

No comments: