What are candidates trying to accomplish with the wealth of political ads that are appearing on television and the web these days?
They may be trying to directly persuade voters with the content of the messages, but more likely they are trying to shape the campaign in more subtle ways than just a direct effect. These are interactional models that say that the interaction among voters, the media and the campaigns triggered by the ads are more important than any direct persuasion of voters. Here are a couple of examples:
The resonance model says that the candidate’s success depends in part on how well his or her basic message resonates with voters’ preexisting political feelings. Thus, the candidate who does the best job of sending out messages that connect with target voters is the one most likely to win. The communication goal for the campaign is not so much to get people to change their minds as it is to get voters to believe that they share viewpoints with the candidate.
The competitive model looks at the campaign not in isolation but as a competition between two or more candidates for the hearts and minds of voters. Hence, the success of a campaign message, such as an ad that criticizes the candidate’s opponent, depends as much on the opponent’s reaction as it does on the message itself. Voter response can also depend on how the media react to the ad. If the ad attracts media attention, it may be played repeatedly on news broadcasts, as well as on political talk shows.
Here are two ads from the 2012 presidential campaign – one from the Obama campaign, one from the Romney campaign. What do you think the campaigns were trying to accomplish with these ads?
(Watch for more ads as the campaign progresses)
“Focus” — Ad for the Romney Campaign
“Stretch” — Ad for the Obama Campaign
And here are four ads from the 2012 campaign that the Washington Post’s The Fix blog highlighted as being among the best of the year:
“Pigs” Ted Yoho for Congress (Republican, Florida)
“Deanne and Chad tell their story” Ed Permutter for Congress (Democrat, Colorado)
“Firms” Obama for America (Democrat, presidency)
“Doing Fine?” Mitt Romney (Republican, presidency)
Finally, here are two classic ads from the 2008 presidential campaign (that I think reach all-time great status) – one from the Obama campaign, one from the McCain campaign. What do you think the campaigns were trying to accomplish with these ads?
“Seven” — Ad for the Obama Campaign
“Celeb” — Ad for the McCain Campaign
Updated Sept. 26, 2012