"You only need cosigners if your credit is bad."
- The Rev. Al Sharpton
If it's true as claimed that real wisdom is found in the comics, then it's equally true that if you want to know the best way to get your message across, study commercials.
It never fails. I'll take a quick break from whatever else I'm doing, turn on the TV to check news headlines, and there he is again: that disappointed little man, crying because he's "lost another loan to Ditech." Or, if I'm lucky, the loan officer's lament will at least alternate with another of those varied but thoroughly predictable "good news" reports by everyone from a judge during a trial to a jilting lover in a tear-jerking scene who "just saved a ton of money" by switching his insurance to Geico.
Judging by the frequency of their commercials, I can't decide if these two companies are still trying to get their message out, or rolling in enough profits to maintain their annoying advertising blitz. But I can tell you that if I were interested in refinancing my mortgage, or I weren't content with the people who already insure my car, there are at least two companies I would not rush out to do business with. Their intelligence-mocking commercials, in addition to their frequency, have been less-than-persuasive except to turn me away.
But do I have a commercial for you. I don't even have a cat, but if I did, there's one brand of cat food I would definitely buy. No words appear in this commercial until near the end, but I'm instantly captivated by the opening scene where, in a jungle-type setting, a large, intimidating animal stares menacingly at a demure little house cat. Suddenly the menacing look is transferred to the little guy who starts running toward the big guy, who morphs into a complete coward and runs away. Only then do we hear a voice, over the image of a bag of Whiskers cat food, saying, "Your cat has an inner beast; feed it!"
What a punch line. What a model, in case you haven't noticed, for some very long-winded speakers vying for some kind of public office just now, who are trying to convince us why we should "buy" their message.
To be a good writer, someone once said, you should read at least five pages a day of good writing, and the same amount of bad writing. Translating that advice to political candidates and other known speakers, once they've mastered the pinpoint brevity of the good commercials, they could advance to speech-making 102 by culling the archives for historic one-liners and learning the difference between winners and duds.
Current speech-maker Wesley Clark might have benefited from this course before he made his claim that there would never be another terrorist attack on the United States if he were president. Likewise, Howard Dean might not have had so much acid-word reflux if he had turned down the decibels and omitted a few states in his farewell speech to Iowa - and perhaps the nomination - a couple of weeks ago.
While candidate and top-notch one-liner Al Sharpton disparages the value of endorsers in his "bad credit" analysis above, pundit Cal Thomas questions the litany of entitlements promised by most of the candidates with this twist on a well-known one-liner of the past: "Ask not what your country can do for you, but ask what you can do for yourselves."
But my choice for this year's political Golden Whiskers Award goes to the very apolitical wife of columnist Paul Jacob. After hearing her husband's name mentioned as a potential presidential candidate, the disinterested Mrs. Jacob said: "He'd make a good candidate, but who'd be his wife?"
(Barbara Seaborn is a local freelance writer. E-mail comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.)
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