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28 August 2014
Think of the children

Think of the children

The power of film

Both sides of the referendum debate have aired their campaign adverts, and both make an impassioned plea to think of the children. What would the Mad Men make of them?

Don Draper might have liked Better Together’s ‘The Woman Who Made Up Her Mind’, but perhaps not for the reasons they’d want. The film depicts a woman taking a brief moment out of her busy day. She’s irritated by her kids’ constant activity on social networks. Despite this, she stresses her love for them, and decides to vote No because of fears of uncertainty for their future.

From the close up to her wedding ring to the ‘staying together for the kids’ message, Better Together leave you with no doubt who the film is aimed at – it’s extremely targeted. Exclusive, even. This would have been an extremely hard job for the actress, even before the social media fallout. She has the responsibility of being the central focus, but will have struggled to make the script convincing. We see someone who is too busy to make an informed decision yet willing to dish out advice. She knows Alex Salmond’s currency stubbornness but not his name. From the start, the viewer is asked to relate to the single character, but that also leads to judgement. Surely many of the target audience watching will at least know the name of the First Minister of Scotland, for example?

Despite defending the film, Better Together must be disappointed with the response. As well as being branded sexist and patronising by Women for Independence, female no voters are now also distancing themselves from it. Former Liberal Democrat MSP Margaret Smith tweeted that it was "absolutely appalling,” and former Scottish Lib Dem convenor Sandra Grieve told the Guardian "When I watched it I felt like I'd been transported back to the 1950s”. Even the Italian press, with one foot still in Don Draper’s world, suggested the film was sexist, which is quite an achievement.

Launching the video on Tuesday, Better Together campaign director Blair McDougall said: "The key factor for people isn't the love of our country — as both Yes and No voters love Scotland. The key factor is the love of our families."

However, the Yes campaign film didn’t focus on love of the country. It, too, asked viewers to think of the children. The opening line is a young child saying “I can dress myself”. A woman waves her daughter off at the school gates. Emotional manipulation, but effective filmmaking. An ensemble cast of smiling, healthy, fitter and optimistic hopefuls have the easy job of telling us we can be confident in our own independence, and by osmosis, the country. By having lots of characters, the viewer is less likely to judge any of them. The Better Together film put a lot of pressure on its performer by using a single character with mainly static shots, forcing the viewer to concentrate on the script. Yes Scotland’s film is quite the opposite – the camera is always moving and the voices varied, giving an impression of inclusive momentum.

Even if it is, as critics have claimed, style over substance, the Yes campaign film is slick, well shot and clearly expensive. Anyone who’s watched Mad Men will know in advertising style counts, but that doesn’t mean you need to use a 1950s character when selling your idea.

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