A Review of Electoral Campaign Ads

As the electoral campaigns are coming to a close, it is still unclear what many of the leading parties think about policy issues such as the environment, EU integration, labor rights, or minorities. Most of the coverage last week has been dominated by (violent) exchanges between different parties, while any discussion of substance faded even further to the background.

Nevertheless, the most recent campaign advertisements at least give an idea of what image the different parties want to project. Therefore, a brief review of the most recent campaign advertisements of this electoral season.

Socialist Party

My views on Rama as a visual artist are, I hope, well known, but his most recent campaign ad – one minute, one sound track, no voice-over, and a single metaphor – is a work of perfection.

The ad starts with a shot of a person in a white shirt walking in the dark. Even though filmed from the back and cut off below the head, it is immediately clear who he is; we have seen this entrance before. On the background you can see signs of (road) work in progress. The location seems to be a construction site, another familiar visual trope. He wears white sneakers. This is Edi Rama.

Rama picks up a rope, and pulls on one end. A string orchestra plays cinematically on the background. A weak light appears at the rope’s other end, but we still cannot see Rama’s face. He isn’t strong enough to pull further, the light dims, and he drops the rope.

The feet of a young girl, wearing pink sandals, running toward the rope. The shot repeats the earlier shot of Rama’s sneakers. She hands him the rope, and now we see his face. He smiles. He will try again. Together with the little girl he manages to pull the rope a bit further, and the scene cuts to a shot of the sun rising over the hills. They are pulling up the sun.

Other people join in the effort, the sound of the strings swells, and together they pull up the sun. The sun rises over the hills, while the scene cuts to the statue of Mother Albania, sculpted by Rama’s father, at dawn. A slogan and a time lapse of the renovated Skënderbeg Square. The Albanian flag waving above the square, and then cut to PS logo and the Albanian flag.

Everything in this video is on point. The theme of pulling up the sun fits Rama’s megalomania like a glove, and resonates both with his “Renaissance” theme of the previous elections, and the visual emblem of the current PS campaign which portrays the Albanian double-headed eagle rising above a curved horizon. The metaphor also has a fairy-tale and dreamy quality, something done by protagonists in mythological tales.

At the same time, the rope-pull and the sneakers emphasize Rama’s athletic background, which fits with the image he has created of himself during the campaign.

The message is perfectly clear and consistent with what Rama has stressed time after time: I want to do the impossible, but with a little help, I will do it for our children and grandchildren. The two rope-pulling attempts are also a metaphor of his first and second term in office: the first one with the LSI was a failure, but now, the second time with you, dear voter, I will succeed.

There is no spoken language in the clip, and the music does nearly all the emotional legwork. It is an extraordinarily effective clip, and I admit that I got goosebumps watching it for the first time. It is, hands down, one of the best political ads I’ve ever seen.

Democratic Party

The most recent advertisement of the Democratic Party is of a completely different genre. Clocking at about 3’30”, it consists nearly entirely of footage from PD meetings, with people listening to Lulzim Basha, intercut with photographs from the early 1990s, when the PD was born. Basha himself, however, is hardly ever in the shot. All people appear to stare at some point outside the frame from where his voices emerges.

Basha talks throughout the entire ad, with a long speech – in full and grammatically correct sentences – about the situation in Albania and how he intends change it. He speaks calmly in his regular speaking voice, which is by far his best asset. He has never been good at shouting, and here he portrays himself as a listener, as the voice of reason. People all over Albania are listening to his voice.

The electronic music in the background, which very slowly accelerates, underscores the urgency of his point. Or, at least, the music makes it seem as if there is urgency in his words.

The end of the ad is a bit bathetic, with a slide show of photographs that is not entirely synchronized with the music, whose volume is noticeably lowered when Basha says a last few words, only to go back to full volume underneath an image of Basha and the PD logo.

With the video the PD shows that it would like to campaign on substance and policy rather than on emotion. But three and a half minutes may be too long for the average viewer to listen to the ideas of Basha, with his calm and analytic demeanor. In fact, it is difficult to concentrate on what he’s saying because of the music and many different images. In that sense the ad feels groundless and drifting – as if the party is looking for a form, a form that can combine a revolutionary history with a leader who is unable to scream or curse.

At the same time, Basha still projects very much a classical “leader” image. Whereas Rama is pulling from the back of the rope, with the sun shining in his face, the PD ad opens with Basha’s supporters staring into the light; the light coming from the speaker outside the frame, Basha himself. Even though Rama’s autocratic leadership style is well-known, the visual language that accompanies it is more subtle and refined. So the question with which we leave the PD ad is: where is Basha’s voice coming from? Who is this man and what is that party?

Socialist Movement for Integration

The advertisement of the LSI is the shortest and most straightforward. Action music. Fat typography. Repeat, repeat, repeat. “Vote 1. Your Chance.”

It is completely unclear what kind of “chance” you would be voting for, but I suppose that is the whole point. LSI is not so much a party of policy, but a party that based on being in power. Voting is a “chance” for a job – and maybe not in a call center.

All the young people in this ad – and all of them are young – seem oblivious of the meaning of their vote, and all cast their votes for “no. 1” in absurdist voting centers with the numbers “no. 1,” “no. 111,” and “no. 110.” This is a rather obvious attempt at subliminal messaging, as if seeing the number 1 everywhere in the clip would entice me to support the LSI.

At the end of the ad, Minister of Integration Klajda Gjosha, looking as young as possible, drives the point home: “A chance for you is a chance for everyone.” But what about “a chance for the LSI?”

Strangely enough, it seems as if the ad prefers to state “vote no. 1” rather than “vote LSI”; the name of the party is only mentioned in the last few seconds, and major party figures such as President-Elect Ilir Meta and party leader Petrit Vasili do not appear in the clip. Perhaps in order to avoid reminding the voter too much of which party is really behind “no. 1” and who is really in charge? (hint: it is not Klajda Gjosha).