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Painful political ads & the government’s PR problem

Make no mistake about it: age is something which comes to us all, and is certainly not something to be mocked. It’s part of the circle of life.

As cringe as I find my parents’ taste in entertainment, no doubt my future children will find me cringe for even using the word “cringe,” which by then will be massively outdated slang. It’ll be like saying “groovy” or “epic” – the fossilised remains of words that haven’t been popular in decades.

My favourite album, for example, is “Get Rich Or Die Trying” by 50 Cent, because it’s what I grew up on. But by the time my kids are my age, that album will be around 45 years old and may as well be ancient Sumerian sheet music found on a clay tablet. They’ll probably view it as prehistoric crap, and will vent to their friends about how brutal their Dad’s choice of music is. I willingly embrace this grim fate, as did my forebears.

This is the eternal way of the world – young people and old people just have different tastes, and that’s an unbridgeable gap we all must accept. Neither one is right or wrong – they’re just different.

Which is why there’s nothing more painful or heartbreaking than middle-aged or older politicians trying to be young and relatable in a forced or unnatural way.

Take this recent Fianna Fáil ad – “Minstas on Insta” – set to the theme of Brooklyn 99.

“Stay up to date with the FF Minsta’s on Insta and FOMO no mo’,” the party wrote.

Now, overwhelmingly, the comments are not exactly what Fianna Fáil was probably hoping for. The general consensus seems to be that watching this video feels like being exposed to lethal doses of radiation, and is a tortured experience one would not wish on their worst enemy.

But there were also constructive comments as well – though they may not seem like it.

For example:

“This doesn’t make you look trendy and in touch with the youth,” said one user.

“It makes you look like you’re trying to be trendy. It’s very embarrassing that you’ve done this and thought it looked good.”

And whether Fianna Fáil’s teams of highly-paid marketers realise it or not, there is a great deal of truth to that. Nothing about it feels natural or compelling – it feels like they Googled “Top 10 popular programs” and just inserted themselves into the first one they saw in an attempt to say “Look at us – we like the same series that you like. We’re young and cool.”

This is perhaps compounded by the fact that most of the Ministers featured in the video are presiding over areas of society that are failing miserably by any objective standard.

Agriculture and Fishing Minister Charlie McConalogue, for example, features front and centre in this cute little trendy clip.

Meanwhile, farmers and fishermen across Ireland are furious and organising protests seemingly every couple of months, screaming for their voices to be heard because they are so dissatisfied with the state of their sectors.

No doubt Charlie would say “But I’m working very hard to address their concerns, these are complex issues” – and maybe that’s true. But if that’s the case, he should be going to great lengths to explain that to farmers and fishermen. He should be showing them how he’s helping them on the bread and butter issues – not appearing to faff about making Andy Samberg references.

Second on the list is Housing Minister Darragh O’Brian, for whom the exact same thing could be said. With Ireland’s disastrous housing crisis, videos like this just make him look like he’s not serious about the problem – a view which numerous people expressed in the comments.

I can promise you, not one person watched this video and thought “You know what? I wasn’t too sold on that Fianna Fáil crowd before, but that funny ad about the program with Terry Crews really swayed me.” It just rings as totally hollow, insincere and unserious about the numerous serious crises gripping the country.

Fine Gael has the same problem, mind you. Before the 2020 General Election, they posted a now-deleted ad in which actors dressed as Fianna Fáil TDs are running around looking for “new ideas” to the Benny Hill theme – a clip which had to be pulled within 12 hours because the response was so dire.

Between Simon Harris and Neale Richmond posting “funny” little TikToks, and Paschal Donohoe preaching to a crowd in which literally nobody is listening and he’s being entirely ignored (view below at your own peril), these are not good looks. This is not what young people, or people in general, find cool.

Compare all of this to a party like Sinn Féin, with their ad “It’s Time To Unite Ireland.”

Say what you will about Sinn Féin, but you can’t deny this: the music is cool and dramatic. The rhetoric is inspiring and uplifting. The imagery is creative, showing scenes across the island with a clear and serious message.

Or take their 2020 election broadcast, which was recorded in a Q&A format, where they have their own interviewer asking softball questions to allow Mary Lou to expand on Sinn Féin policy. This is really creative and a great way to get their point across.

They talk about housing. They talk about state pensions. They talk about homelessness and Irish Unity. These are issues which matter to people.

They don’t jump up and down talking about the latest Marvel movie and posting Big Chungus memes. They look like a serious party.

In fact, the few stunts that have backfired on Sinn Féin are ones where they act more government-like, wherein Gerry tries and fails to be funny.

People don’t need politicians to be “cool,” or “entertaining.” As an elected official, you’re not auditioning for an acting gig. You’re a politician – people want you to get things done politically and improve their lives.

Rightly or wrongly, Sinn Féin projects the image of people who will do this. And that is a major part of why they are winning, and will continue to do so unless the government gets its act together.


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