A lot of people don’t understand how to think about political advertising. Quite often, they’ll see an ad, think it’s funny or find it repulsive, and then react subjectively. The point isn’t whether one likes or dislikes an ad, it’s about one question: does it do what it’s supposed to do. Some ads are designed to depress turnout. Some ads are designed to move a very specific group to the polls, or change an opinion on one issue that will drive turnout. It’s my experience in having written and produced many political ads that some of the most memorable ads are also the least effective… I know that sounds counter-intuitive, but sometimes sizzle doesn’t equal substance…and some of the most effective are the most “boring.” So I’m reluctant to say these are the “best” ads. Advertising, because it’s not a personal and inherently believable form of communication is a medium that’s about frequency and reach. So some ads have the ability to be effective, but the candidate doesn’t have the dollars to make it work, and so it gets lost. Rather, I’ve picked ads that are a combination of things: the most memorable, least effective and most effective – but they are all, in their own way, interesting.
Jerry Brown’s Echo
In a very tight race, and as a polarizing figure in his own right (hard to say you don’t know Jerry Brown, love him or hate him), he needs to make this campaign about Meg Whitman. CA fell in love with the celebrity of Gov. Schwarzenneger, who unfortunately presided over a precipitous fall in the state’s fiscal health. This ad, maybe the most effective ad of the entire cycle, successfully ties Meg Whitman to Arnold
NRSC Hicky Ad for John Raese
Having been a part of a political campaign in West Virginia, I commented on our show, before the news came out that this was filmed in Philly with actors, that this ad was a disaster. I know Real West Virginians. Real West Virginians are friends of mine. These clearly WERE NOT Real West Virginians. And if there’s anything people in West Virginia hate, it’s the stereotype people hang around their necks. This ad, done by the NRSC, was in my view, ironically, Raese’s downfall.
Jack Conway “Why”
This ad falls in the repulsive category for me. Who cares? Well, sometimes we hate ads but they work. My guess is the reason Paul came out and screamed about this ad was to try to get it pulled down. Given the frequency and reach, this ad will move Christian Conservative Democrats, and it’s my guess they’re fighting for that voter.
Linda McMahon “Jobs:
This is the best negative ad of the campaign. The problem is that Linda spent $41 million on negative ads in this campaign, and this poor little ad was lost in cacophony of negativity. Had she run her positive message on jobs, which was effective over the summer, and then countered with this ad on jobs, she would be doing better with women, and she’d be winning this race in a walk. Instead, this ad is lost in obscurity, and she will be lose, ironically in her case, because she went too negative, and turned off too many voters, especially women.
Christine O’Donnell “I’m You”
This ad was a disaster in my book. There’s an axiom in advertising that the best way to kill a bad product is to advertise it. This is a textbook example. Why waste time and money reminding everyone you’re not a witch? All you’ve done is make sure everyone knows about it. If she stuck to her message of jobs and taxes, she’d be doing a lot better. This is a case where the cult of personality is her undoing. She’s just not a serious, substantive candidate, and her first bio ad reveals that.
Parody of I’m You:
It’s raunchy, but it’s spot-on satire…this is what happens when you put yourself out there like O’Donnell did.
Joe Manchin “Dead Aim”:
Interesting that this ad is getting a lot of criticism. It won’t work with the media elite, but it will work in West Virginia. On the heels of the NRSC’s flub, this ad, which distances Manchin from Obama and defines him at the same time, has him using a popular prop in this year’s campaign: a gun. Manchin isn’t the most media savvy guy, but he oozes sincerety and authenticity, and that’s what comes across. Yeah, the gun is borderline offensive in some ways, but you get the feeling this guy actually knows how to shoot a gun.
Pamela Gorman “Driving the Left Nuts!”:
This is an example of a bio spot gone too far. Shooting the gun once or twice is enough. This is so easy to paradoy. What’s next, jumping on a tank? Pulling out a howitzer? Where do you stop? We get the point. You’re tough. Ease up just a little. But in this environment, it works for her base, so it’s an effective ad. Too much on the guns, though, and it has the ability to drive turnout among her opponent’s base…if there actually was one in Arizona!
Rick Barber “Slavery”:
Theatrical, over the top, hyperbolic, clichéd – it so perfectly captures Tea Party Fever 2010. Rick, you’re the next Glenn Beck. Pull out the chalk board and start crying. Oh, yeah, the ad has poor production value, looks like something done by an elementary school class, but it works, in its own perverse way, it works. Thanks to CBS for the clip.
Joe Sestak “The Switch”
This ad rivals Jerry Brown’s as the most effective ad of this cycle. There is nothing more powerful than using a candidate’s own words against him or her. This ad devastated Specter, and helped drive turnout among Sestak’s supporters. So it was a bio spot in a way that re-defined Specter, but it also juiced up his voters.