Just Asking

The candidate should be able to sum up his or her message in five words or less. When I worked on the Clinton campaign, the mantra ‘It’s the economy, stupid’ trumped any negative message. It helps to have a great politician. It’s odd how frequently that issue is overlooked. Sincerity, honesty and a clear position on issues that really matter. Negative ads have their place, but they cannot be the only message. You need to drive people to the polls, not away from them. Political advertising should be the same as any advertising, with emotion, persuasiveness, memorability and a real core fact. But it’s hard to nail down the facts these days because nobody is keeping track of anything. And the political arena is a lot tougher because there are always two sets of facts. The most effective political advertising captures a widely held but as yet unarticulated fear, need or desire—and creates an indelible link between that image and the candidate. Such images were most powerfully linked in “Daisy,” “Morning in America” and “Willie Horton.”

When done well, a high-concept spot reaches voters on both an emotional and rational level, and generates significant free media coverage. Unfortunately, you rarely see these types of ads for two reasons: the majority of political consultants have a basic formula for ads they believe work and cost very little to produce; and it is a rare politician that will agree to put an ad on the air that isn’t all about them.