Ask Newt If Ads Matter

In age of 24/7 cable news coverage and social media, in an age when the public is sick to death of political advertising, in an age of nifty ad-dodging tools like Hulu, YouTube and TiVO, political ads are now increasingly irrelevant. An anachronism.

Right? We’ve been hearing that for years now. For instance, a 2008 column in the Star Tribune by John Rash carried the provocative headline, “Ads’ influence falls away in a ‘message election,’” and carried a number of quotes from influential local and national experts supporting the headline’s assertion.

It’s not the first time you’ve heard the claim, and it’s not the last time you’ll hear it. But reports of the demise of the political ad have been greatly exaggerated.

Consider, for instance, Newt Gingrich’s freefall in Iowa.

Both Iowans and non-Iowans have been watching the same presidential debate coverage of Newt. Both Iowans and non-Iowans have been watching the same national news coverage of Newt. Both Iowans and non-Iowans have been listening to Limbaugh, Hannity and other nationally syndicated talk radio hosts opining about Newt and his rivals.

But a huge difference for Newt in Iowa versus the rest of the country is the anti-Newt advertising pouring into Iowa. Newt reportedly is getting hammered by negative direct mail ads, radio ads, TV ads, outdoor ads, and online ads. Iowans are seeing the ads repeatedly, but Americans as a whole are not.

It therefore is probably not a coincidence that Newt is polling at about 27.4% nationally, but half that (13.7%) in Iowa. Nationally, he is still in first place, but in Iowa he has fallen to fourth place. His trend line isn’t great in either Iowa or the nation as a whole, but in Iowa Gingrich has fallen faster and further.
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Political TV Ad Retrospective: The Java Jive Validated

About 673 billion years ago (back in February), my friend Loveland wrote a favorable critique of Al Franken’s now-famous “Mrs. Molin” ad.

Ignoring Loveland’s fine analysis, I commented uselessly:

You know what’s the real star of political TV advertising?


Case in point: Here you see the candidate holding a pot of coffee and pouring coffee into a coffee mug. I presume there’s another mug for his wife, because there’s a half-pot left. Then, a bit later, it’s the candidate talking with the concerned parents — and all three have a nice cup of coffee before them.a_small_cup_of_coffee

Then, in June, Loveland dissected and thumbed-up the now-famous Norm Coleman ad in which he takes out the trash at his wife’s behest. I withheld comment at the time, but had I done so it would have been about the coffee. It’s everywhere in this one, too — being held, poured, consumed, beloved.

Now, there’s this, released late last month by researchers at Yale (emphasis mine):

Our judgment of a person’s character can be influenced by something as simple as the warmth of the drink we hold in our hand.

In the current issue of the journal Science, Yale University psychologists show that people judged others to be more generous and caring if they had just held a warm cup of coffee and less so if they had held an iced coffee. In a second study, they showed people are more likely to give something to others if they had just held something warm and more likely take something for themselves if they held something cold.

“It appears that the effect of physical temperature is not just on how we see others, it affects our own behavior as well,” (Yale psychology professor John A.) Bargh said. “Physical warmth can make us see others as warmer people, but also cause us to be warmer – more generous and trusting – as well.”

I knew it!

Now then.  I know what you’re saying. You’re saying, “Hold it. This study doesn’t imply that a person viewing a Coffee-Holding Other Person is inclined to view the Coffee-Holding Other Person more favorably. It’s saying the opposite — that a Coffee-Holding Person is inclined to view others more favorably.”

Sticklers. Of course you’re right. But it’s close enough, so let’s go ahead and make the extrapolation. Look for the 2010 ads to feature candidates carrying five-gallon boiling cauldrons with both hands. unsecured business loans nice

Al’s Rationale

Before the first Tuesday in November, Minnesota U.S. Senate candidate Al Franken has three primary messaging To-Dos to accomplish: 1) Wrestle the ethics issue to neutral; 2) Prove that Norm Coleman has been a Bush loyalist; and 3) Convince swing voters that Franken is an acceptable alternative.

In terms of countering ethics charges, Franken has been very active. A recent ad framed his own tax problems as an honest mistake, and then spotlighted charges about Senator Coleman’s allegedly shady Capitol Hill housing arrangement. A sequel ad employed a talking fish — perhaps a first in political advertising history — to tie his opponent to indicted Alaska Senator Ted Stevens and his merry band of gift-giving lobbyists.

As I’ve said before, Franken’s ads won’t make voters completely forget about his ethics problems, but they don’t have to. Franken’s intention with these ads is to get enough voters to the point of thinking “yeah, both candidates have imperfect ethics, so I have to decide based on something else.” If Franken can accomplish that, he still has a shot, because this is one of the best election years for Democrats in recent memory. I maintain Franken should have disarmed the tax mistakes by offering a prompt and thorough explanation, and sincere apology, but these ads are helping a bit.

Enter the second To-Do: Tying Bush to Coleman. Coleman’s centerpiece reelection argument is that he is “bringing people together to solve problems.” That is a faux non-partisan appeal to non-partisan swing voters. Franken needs to disarm Coleman’s claim by proving that Coleman has been in lockstep with the most unpopular and partisan Presidents of our times, something Franken does pretty well in his most recent ad:

Unlike most of Franken’s ads, this one is both strategic and unique enough to stand out in the sea of nearly identical cookie cutter political commercials washing into our family rooms. It’s just entertaining enough that it won’t get completely tuned out, and it may actually get discussed at the water cooler.

The third to-do – proving that Franken is an acceptable alternative — began early in the campaign, but the Frankenoids will need to close with some more soft stuff to sell the acceptability of Franken.

Franken’s got a long ways to go in less than two months, but he is finally on-track.

– Loveland

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