Campaign Ads in the Powerpoint Era

There’s a Forbes.com article out right now on Jeff Bezos and “the end of Powerpoint as we know it.”

The next time you deliver a PowerPoint presentation that matters—a product launch, investor pitch, new client meeting— take a cue from Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos and ditch the bullet points. When Bezos unveiled the all-new new Kindle Fire HD this week, his presentation slides were light on text and heavy on images. This style of delivering presentations is fresh, engaging, and ultimately far more effective than slide after slide of wordy bullet points.

This is cutting edge advice??  The magnificent Edward Tufte, author of The Cognitive Style of Powerpoint and several other great books on graphic communication of data, has been saying this for years now.  (The book is worth the cover alone, with its image of a Soviet-era Red Square parade with the bubble thought, “Nobody’s bullet point list is like Stalin’s bullet point list!”)  My first, second, and third rule of Powerpoint (which I seldom use, except for presentations on energy and environment, where data charts and sight gags are especially useful) has always been: No text; no bullet points; no nothing.  As I think David Brooks may have first said, power corrupts, and Powerpoint corrupts absolutely.  It is the perfect device for separating the speaker from the audience.  So how hard is it to realize what Bezos and others have done, which is to use Powerpoint sparingly?

That said, am I the only one who finds the current style of TV campaign spots to resemble every bullet-point, text-heavy Powerpoint presentation you’ve ever hated? The predominant style today seems to be to have a voice-over reciting the text flashed on the screen.  I guess we should expect this from the Powerpoint candidate from Bain Capital, most of whose ads, like this one, seem cut from the Powerpoint model:

Maybe these test well in focus groups, but I wonder why no one seems to think of the more subtle but effective equivalent of one of the most famous TV ads of all time, the “Bear in the Woods” ad from 1984 that never mentioned Reagan’s opponent:

So how about an ad this year that doesn’t mention Obama or the bad economy at all, but makes a quick argument about the future—about whether you want a society dominated by government, with a shrinking defense, dedicating most of its revenue to transfer payments and handouts and food stamps, and where the best way to get ahead is through crony connections to Washington?  I can think of a bunch of variations of this theme that could complement or surpass Romney’s “Broken Promise” or “Better Future” ads.

For that matter, if the Romney campaign really wants to go after Obama, why not just buy the Powerline video contest runner up from last year, “Doorbell,” and re-shoot it with an Obama lookalike at the front door.  (Bonus!—think how much the Left would howl about how such an ad is “racist”):

 

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