Category Archives: political advertising

Why now it’s Obama’s mosque


Tis the season of negative advertising. Rick Scott, a Republican running for governor of Florida, is posting ads asking you to stand up to fight Obama’s … mosque. Confused? We mean, just two years ago Obama belonged to a radical Christian church. No matter. It’s a classic depositioning move, casting a seed of doubt not meant to lure the logical but to sway only 5% or so of the population both (a) on the fence about whom to vote for and (b) angry about the idea of another religion building a house of worship in New York City.

Negative ads work because they tap our deep-rooted, evolutionary fears. It’s the same impulse that makes you retreat from a spider or snake, potentially poisonous in the tropical lands of your ancestors, who were smart enough to flee and pass those fearful genes downward to you. We cringe before the strange, the foreign, the unknown that might hurt us. You can’t fight aversion. Fear is hard-wired to survival, because even if unjustified 99% of the time, the 1% that protects you from being bitten is enough for your DNA to survive.

Expect to see more fearmongering this fall as politicians warn us of snakes and spiders all around. If only a few percentage points step back from suspicious half-truths, those who cast doubts win the game.

Via Brian Morrissey.

Seriously, GOP.com, what do you want?


We took a close look at GOP.com today to see how they are countering WhiteHouse.gov, and have some free strategic advice for conservatives trying to rebound from Obamamania. Please, Republicans, blow up your web site and start over.

Here’s why. If your audience doesn’t know what to do, you fail. The point of any communication is to create a desired action. Direct mail: Respond. TV ad: Go buy our stuff. Newspaper report: Read and be enlightened. While Obama has been direct in his messaging (first, donate, now, support the economic recovery plan) the GOP.com site is all over the place. We count at least 18 calls to action:

1. Create a personal GOP profile!
2. Join the GOP Facebook group!
3. Contribute.
4. Join the Young Eagles!
5. Shop the GOP store.
6. Create a profile (redundant link).
7. Donate (redundant link).
8. Call talk radio.
9. Join GOP.
10. Register to vote.
11. Contribute (redundant link).
12. Path for (or to find?) elected officials.
13. Create MyGOP.
14. Get GOP stuff.
15. Make friends.
16. Visit the RNC’s Center for Republican Renewal.
17. Download the GOP search bar!
18. Check the event in January!

We imagine a future Rush Limbaugh hitting this site, desperate to get involved in restoring the Republicans to power … and falling asleep at his desk after 10 minutes of puzzling over what the hell to do.

For web strategy shops, we highly recommend you reach out to GOP.com and pitch them a redesign. The right is struggling and this bizarre communications approach is going to get them nowhere. It’s a good test for your own business, too. If someone visits your web site, could they find what they want in 2 seconds? And can they understand what action you want them to take?

Godless ads and boogersnots

Why does this type of ad work? Elizabeth Dole got carded by the press for unfairly hyping her opponent as taking money from godless Americans, but it’s only one of thousands of negative ads from both Dems and Repubs attacking their opponents with canards and shaded lies.

We mean, say we were competing with you, and so we told everyone that you ate green boogersnots for breakfast. At the last second would voters look at your name on a ballot and recoil just a bit at the idea that you have dried gobs of nasal mucus in your teeth? Of course not everyone would believe it. But the ads don’t have to be trusted by everyone; if only 10% of the population believes them, that swings the middle of the vote, and we win!

There are three reasons why voters respond to attack ads. One is the basic theory of loss aversion, proven in studies, where people feel much more pain losing $100 than joy in gaining $100. Faced with a choice of avoiding a bad thing or getting a good thing, people respond much more strongly to leap out of way of the bad. Boogersnots? No thanks, I’ll avoid that loss choice.

The second is human survival. We all still recoil from snakes in the grass or giant spiders (um, did we say “we”?), because humans are conditioned by evolution to avoid things that could poison or kill them. Political correctness aside, when you see a person with a big pimple on his face, you want to avoid him — because a few centuries ago blemishes weren’t just acne, they were a sign of the pox. Our slavish affection for beauty is simply genetics longing to produce a healthy survivor. When we meet ugliness or the unknown, we want to move away, because our cave ancestors did, didn’t get infected, and survived.

And the third is memory. Humans transfer information from short to long-term memory during periods of heightened emotion. Think back to the biggest fight you had with your spouse or lover, and you probably can describe the paint on the wall. Attack ads bring up strong feelings, and are thus perfect messaging missiles to sink into your political-wearied brain.

Thousands of generations of conditioning make us respond well to things that are unwell. If it looks horrible, don’t get near. Which is why we now have godless TV ads and will never, ever elect someone said to eat green boogersnots.

Why political attack ads no longer scare you


The Wall Street Journal noted last week that 2008 may have more negative ads than any U.S. presidential contest in history, and yet few consumers seem to care. Why? The first rule of negative campaigning, WSJ suggests, is it must be about an issue that already worries voters. Both Obama and McCain have gone negative; Obama has tied McCain to the savings-and-loan scandal of the 1980s, and McCain (and Palin famously) have accused Obama of palling around with old terrorists.

Voters are scared, all right — about losing life savings and their jobs. In the limited attention span that Americans have for politics, they want to know who will solve their fears. Bringing up old radicals or scandals from decades ago just won’t stick, when the worrying rungs in our mental ladders are already full. The attack ads appear to have backfired most for McCain, who has been running more of them and still falling in the polls.

Photo: Thomas Hawk

The McCain tax-cut video

The latest TV spot from John McCain takes a different approach than Obama’s tax-cut calculator. Instead of any specific numbers, McCain lists several broad actions to stimulate the economy: cut taxes, reduce government spending, drill for oil in America, rebuild consumer savings, and create new jobs. It’s noteworthy that the background images evoke the White House.

The approach avoids specifics (as in Obama’s “95 percent of Americans” claim) to convey a simple, presidential brand. We’d say this will score well among business owners and conservative blue-collar types looking for a traditional presidential figure. With prediction markets giving Obama an 87.5% chance of winning the election, McCain has returned to his core.

The Obama tax-cut calculator


One of our first English teachers in high school said “show, don’t tell.” Obama is doing just this with a tax-cut calculator promoted on his main web site that allows U.S. voters to determine exactly how much they’d save under his tax plan vs. McCain’s. Nice use of numbers to try to overcome political arguments, and perhaps an approach your own business should emulate online if you’re selling anything in a down economy.

We couldn’t find a similar calculator on McCain’s site but did find videos outlining his own economic policy benefits with the vibe of a business presentation. Different audiences, different tactics.

Obama now advertising on Xbox 360


Advertising on video games is officially here. Barack Obama is placing ads on Xbox 360 and Sony PlayStation racing games that appear in realistic environments such as billboards over the virtual roadways. EA spokeswoman Holly Rockwood reports the ads were sold by Massive, a gaming agency owned by Microsoft, and that both Obama and John McCain camps were approached but only Barack bit.

Game counsels such as the Xbox are tied into the web and allow some targeting innovations, such as using the gamers’ geographic location to post messages that could potentially say “go down the street to pick up your voter registration forms.” At first glance this skews toward youth … but consider that the average age of videogamers is now 33 and John McCain may be missing an opportunity.

Via Brier Dudley.

Prediction markets push McCain further down


Sen. McCain, meet artificial intelligence.

We’re researching a larger piece about prediction markets and it occurs to us that they provide a form of collective intelligence. Such markets — where thousands of people place bets on the outcome of the future — have remarkable accuracy. The Iowa Electronic Markets have predicted the outcome of the past presidential elections since 1988 with only 1.33% variance from aggregate results.

As of midnight last night, McCain’s odds of “winning it all” fell to 23.5% on the IEM exchange. The red line in the graph above shows the declining GOP fortune, tied to the economic tailspin. Bets are on the final mile of this election will get virulent.