How Obama could win over the public in 30 seconds

What will Obama say in tonight’s State of the Union speech?

If history is any guide, nothing particularly surprising or interesting.

Nothing that will change the public’s very low opinion of government, according a recent Gallup Poll.

Thomas Frank and his colleagues at Harpers have an idea:  can the long speeches, stick to a 30-second spot, and run it during the Super Bowl. Rebrand government.

Last September, when the pollsters at Gallup asked Americans to “describe the federal government in one word or phrase,” 72 percent of the responses were pejorative. The federal government was a “constipated,” “obese,” “crappy” “bureaucracy” run by a “bunch of yahoos,” or by a “bunch of [profanity deleted].” We may be more politically polarized than ever, but when it comes to the federal government, we stand united in our disgust.

One often hears that we should run government like a business. What would a business do if it saw brand loyalty give way to such brand hostility? Wouldn’t its executives summon the alchemists of advertising? The day after last November’s midterm elections, Harper’s Magazine gathered creatives from four ad agencies—Saatchi & Saatchi, Goody Silverstein, Grey Group, and Weiden+Kennedy—and assigned them a daunting task: to develop a television spot for the federal government. And not just any television spot. We wanted one both memorable enough and entertaining enough to compete in the most expensive televised-marketing event of the year—the Super Bowl.

The conversation that followed, which can be read in our February issue, touched on government’s image problem and the recipe for the perfect Super Bowl ad. All four agencies created storyboards for Super Bowl spots, which also appear in the issue. One of them, Goodby Silverstein, took the task a step further and created areal website as a companion to their fake ad below.

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