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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Contextual Contortion

Snip snip.
Context matters in communications. Obviously, quoting someone out of context, or only partially in context, changes the meaning and distorts the original meaning.

As self evident as this assertion seems, Willard Mitt Romney apparently sees nothing wrong with contextual contortion.

This week, Romney ran an ad showing President Obama saying “if we keep talking about the economy, we’re going to lose.” Bam, clean blow, right?

The problem is, the President actually said, “Senator McCain’s campaign said, and I quote, ‘if we keep talking about the economy, we’re going to lose.’”

When pressed about the obvious flimflammery of the Romney editing, a Romney spokesperson refused to recant or apologize. Amazingly, Romney’s guy responded, ““He (President Obama) did say the words. That’s his voice.”

“That’s his voice.” Good grief, I hope the Romniac took a shower after that interview. This is the state of political communications in America today. Pathetic.

I hope my conservative friends can concede that Governor Romney went way over the line with his shameless broadcast butchery. After all, if that approach is good for the goose, it could also be good for the gander, as this satire from the liberal group ThinkProress shows:

Hey, he did say the words. That’s his voice.

– Loveland

Disaggregating “Government”

As we’ve discussed here before, public opinion research shows big support levels for “smaller government,” but, on a service-by-service basis, citizens don’t want to cut much of anything government does, particularly the most expensive government services.

That’s why this TV ad by the public employees union is a good one. Yes, it has a cookie cutter feel that makes it look like thousands of look-alike ads you’ve seen before. But the ad succeeds in making the government shutdown less abstract, and more about the loss of tangible services that Minnesotans value and strongly support. That’s critically important message framing for the left. While the ad is executionally predictable and uninteresting, it is strategically spot-on.

Here ordinary Minnesotans who look like our family, friends and neighbors are being fired, not faceless, soul-less bureaucrats.

Here there are lives and emotions in front of us, not just numbers and spreadsheets.

Here critical care for vulnerable citizens, education, public safety and bridge maintenance are being shut down, not just the abstract notion of “government.”

Big difference. Big mindshift.

Anti-government legislators dismiss ads like this at their peril. If this ad airs a great deal, it will make a difference. The more “government” is humanized and disaggregated in Minnesotans’ minds, the less popular government cutters will be.

– Loveland

Harry, Louise, Dick and Jane

Why are political and policy ads so prosaic?

The new Harry and Louise health care reform ad is a case-in-point. The level of dialogue and logic exhibited by Harry and Louise is reminiscent of another famous couple — Dick and Jane. There is not a hint of the kind of intelligence, style, wit, edge or savoir faire that sophisticates prefer in their top Super Bowl ads.

Dick and JaneMany of my friends in the commercial advertising business and elsewhere turn their noses up at these ads. They say the ads are banal because the sponsors and their admakers obviously lack creativity.

I disagree. They’re banal by design. The political admakers I’ve known are every bit as creative as the commercial admakers I’ve known. But the political admakers don’t indulge their creative itch to create ads that would be so artsy, nuanced, stylized, multi-layered and clever that they would not connect with their target audience.

After all, the careers of political marketing consultants rise and fall based on whether they demonstrably move swing voters enough to win elections and policy battles. Period. I’d submit they are held much more directly accountable than commercial admakers. Therefore, political admakers take the target audience where they are, not where they wish they were.

Let there be no mistake, these kinds of ads are not aimed at the most informed among us. They’re aimed at people who have proven over the last several months that they are unwilling to spend more than 30 distracted seconds learning about this issue.

The ads are dumb because the target audience is acting dumb. It’s simplistic and unfair to say the target audience IS dumb. Many are not. But let’s just say this: They have habits – failure to follow life-changing public issues and critically analyze claims based on credible facts — that lead them to mimmick the moronic.

And they will decide the outcome of this monumental debate.

So in an attempt to do what they are paid to do, persuade the persuadable, political admakers make Harry and Louise absurdly undemanding and linear. Near the end of this ad, our hero Harry says something the political admaker probably uttered himself when he breathed life into our health care heroes: “Sounds simple enough.”

– Loveland