Does negative political advertising work?

According to these seasoned campaigners, the answer is: yes, stupid.

In short, attack ads work better than positive messages because:

1. People remember them better.

2. People believe them more.

3. As a result of (1) and (2) their impact is more immediate.

I found these three great quotations about negative political advertising in a book called Crowded Airwaves: Campaign Advertising in Elections, that whilst a little old still provides some really interesting insights into the subject.

PETA: Stay firm and fresh

In honour of World Vegan Month, Fallon London have created a piece of film for controversial animal rights group PETA.

The ad, which dramatises the supposed sexual benefits of going vegan, show men with phallic vegetables attached to their groinal region dancing to house music and gyrating their hips.

There’s more than a nod to Benny Benassi’s ‘Satisfaction’ music video in this ad… indeed they’ve seemingly just replaced the sexy, scantily glad females handling power tools with a selection of slightly seedy looking hipster-types (that are usually found populating Shoreditch-based ad agencies) in kitsch settings.

Nevertheless, the film should be applauded as it was doubtless done on a shoestring budget and it has generated a huge amount of views and interest in the campaign group.

PETA are no doubt absolutely delighted with once again managing to cause a bit of a stir and generating some publicity.

Top 10 Political Campaign Ads of the 2012 US Presidential Election

During the course of the 2012 US Presidential campaign 474 unique TV ads (215 by Democrats and 259 by Republicans) were aired by the Obama, Romney and their supporters.

On top of these paid-for TV ads, there were hundreds, if not thousands, of online videos, websites, apps, yard signs and more.

I won’t pretend that I’ve come close to seeing every single ad, but I’ve never let lack of information stop me before, so here’s my Top 10 political ads from the US Presidential 2012 campaign.

10. Doing fine?

This is one of the better of Romney’s (many, many) attack ads.

9. Sarah Silverman’s Indecent Proposal

Sarah Silverman has an x-rated offer for Mitt Romney’s most generous supporter, Sheldon Adelson.  This was a controversial video, but certainly was amongst the most talked about of the campaign.

8. Mitt Romney Style

With over 17 million views, this is the most viral video of the election.  It’s a fantastic production and stands out amongst all Gagnam Style parodies.

7. Revenge or Love of Country?

Another Romney attack ad which caught a nerve amongst voters. Revenge is not seen as the most preferable motivation for going to vote amongst the overwhelming Christian electorate.

6. #RomneyShambles

As the world prepared for the 2012 Olympic Games, Romney went on an international tour in order to bolster his credentials as a world statesman.  What followed was a world wide phenomenon known as #RomneyShambles.  This video is a good, but the real winner is the hash tag.

5. Sarah Silverman – let my people vote

This was the long-awaited follow-up to ‘The Great Schlep’ from 2008.  Whilst not of the same quality, it is still a very amusing and rousing video.

4. Build

This ad was the first attack ad to really connect with the American people, to the extent that Obama released an ad directly responding to the claims.

3. 47%

At the start of his campaign Mitt Romney held a behind-closed-doors fundraiser for high rolling supporters.  He spoke candidly and passionately about the challenges he feels he faces in opposing Obama for the position of President of the United States. Very unfortunately for Romney’s electoral prospects, there was an undercover reporter in the crowd who video recorded the speech.  This ad was released within 24 hours of the video breaking.  It might not be the most creative execution, but the speed with which is was brought out and put on air deserves massive credit.

2. Firms

This Obama attack ad features hollow singing combined with empty environments to create an eery and uneasy feeling about Mitt Romney.  Making an ad which genuinely makes you feel a bit off about something isn’t easy and Team Obama did it with aplomb in this spot.

1. One Chance

At the start of the campaign Joe Biden explained at the Democratic National Convention what he and his running-mate’s platform for re-election was in a single sentence: “Bin Laden is dead, General Motors is alive”

This spot, featuring the Democrat darling Bill “The Comeback Kid” Clinton, deals with the slightly tricky issue of bragging about killing a man on foreign, supposedly friendly, soil.

It could have been easy to score an own goal with this brief, but the film instead manages to frame Obama as having the characteristics that most Americans want in a leader – a brave, honourable, Decider In Chief.

It’s one of the few spots in this election where viewers are left with a bit of a tingle in the spine.  Great work.

How much money was spent on TV advertising by US Presidential candidates in 2012?

The latest data available shows that 75% of all money the Presidential candidates raised was spent on TV advertising.

This equates to Romney shelling out $472 million and Obama spending $396 million.

Sentiment analysis of the ads carried out by CMAG showed that, contrary to the current narrative of most mainstream commentators, Romney’s campaign was even more negative than that of Obama.

This is unusual. In most elections, the incumbent’s campaign is much more negative than that of the nominee.

The reason being that, after a term in office, the public are usually fairly well informed as to the incumbents policy approach and character. This usually leads campaign managers down the strategic path of “better the devil you know, than the devil you don’t”.

Nominees, on the other hand, have had less time in the lime light and fewer opportunities to develop a policy platform or record on a national scale.  Therefore, traditionally, nominees have to spend the majority of their media money rebutting the incumbents assertions and making a positive case for change in their TV advertising.

In the 2012 Presidential election we saw Obama advertising heavily very early in the race, in order to define Romney.  This was before Romney had time to get his Presidential campaign into full swing and so Obama had the added bonus of his ads appearing in an uncluttered media environment.  It’s hard to estimate the impact of having a free run at the opposition for a period of time, but I suspect it played a telling part in the campaign.

Romney, therefore, made life very hard for himself by going so negative against Obama.  The American public knew all about Obama prior to the campaign starting.  Romney, through his incessant attack advertising, missed an opportunity to positively introduce himself to the electorate with his advertising; when he did so in the 1st Presidential debate the public were immediately interested and the polls swung in his favour accordingly.

During the build up to polling day many commentators, when considering the overwhelming negative nature of the two candidates’ campaigns, sounded the death knell for the ‘positive Presidential campaign’.  However, looking objectively at the result of Romney’s negative campaign, I would be surprised if such an approach was adopted in 2016.

Colin Powell endorses Obama in a rare positive TV ad

Last week, in an interview with CBS, Colin Powell endorsed Obama’s campaign for Presidency.

Powell, who was Secretary of State for Republican President George W Bush from 2001-05, made a series of warm remarks about Obama’s administration, but also made some damning criticisms about Romney’s failings as a candidate.

Obama’s team have decided to make an ad which uses only the positive comments, as opposed to an attack ad using the comments that were derogatory about Romney.

The President’s campaign thus far has been overwhelming negative, so this is quite a refreshing change in tack.