Campaign ads
September 29, 2020

Political ads that attack President Trump, like those produced by the Lincoln Project, tend to go viral, but Jess McIntosh, a veteran Democratic communications strategist, told Vanity Fair that's not the way to go if Democrats (or, in the case of the Lincoln Project, anti-Trump Republicans) want to prevent the president's re-election.

McIntosh specifically criticized "scary, doom-and-gloom, negative spots" that use Trump's voice or even just his face. She said they "not only aren't working with people that we want, they're causing backlash among the people that we need."

That doesn't mean McIntosh and others want to ignore Trump; they just believe, she said, "you can make the case that you want to make without even saying his name. The point of ads that seem to work is not centering him, either with audio or visually."

McIntosh learned from experience, having overseen a digital ad earlier this year condemning Trump's march across Lafayette Square during the George Floyd protests. Testing reportedly showed the campaign changed almost no minds about Trump or the demonstrations. Subsequently, when the coronavirus pandemic hit, McIntosh's non-profit ad agency Fellow Americans, took Trump out of a lot of its content, opting to challenge his response to the crisis "in more creative ways." Read more at Vanity Fair. Tim O'Donnell

October 20, 2019

Democrats may be playing it too safe when it comes to political advertising, The New York Times reports.

Laura Edelson, a researcher at New York University who tracks political advertising on Facebook, compared President Trump's re-election campaign to a "supercar" and the Democrats to a "little Volkswagen Bug," which is particularly harsh considering Volkswagen discontinued production of its famous Beetle model in July. While the Trump campaign has been aggressive in rolling out ads, testing content, and selling merchandise, experts say many Democratic campaigns are trying to sway moderates and offend as few people as possible.

"We see much less of that kind of experimentation with the Democratic candidates," Edelson said.

Part of the problem, the Times reports, may be generational. Some digital operatives say the aging professional political class is too timid and less open to new ideas. The digital director of a prominent Democratic presidential candidate was reportedly once shut down by an older consultant when trying to implement "shorter, pithier" ads that would get more internet traffic. "We don't need any of your cinéma vérité clickbait," the consultant reportedly said to director.

That apparently wasn't a one-off example, either — several campaigns reportedly have dealt with similar disagreements over tone. "It's true that anodyne messaging doesn't turn anyone off," said Elizabeth Spiers, who runs the Insurrection, a progressive digital strategy and polling firm. "But it doesn't turn them on either." Read more at The New York Times. Tim O'Donnell

August 10, 2018

On a practical level, this new campaign ad from Hawaii state House member and congressional candidate Kaniela Ing is a pitch for voters in Hawaii's 1st congressional district to pick him over six rivals in Saturday's Democratic primary. It is also, as New York's The Cut suggests, probably "the chillest campaign ad you've ever seen." But if you're in the right frame of mind — like, say, at work — Ing, 29, makes a pretty compelling case for democratic socialism, reminding Americans that they work too much and policies can fix that.

"We can have an economy when you only have to work one job," says Ing, strumming a ukulele on a bench by the ocean. "You used to have time to spend with your friends and family, just chilling on the beach like this, playing music." Native Hawaiians "are some of the most productive people on the planet," he said, able to get everything they need in four or five hours "and then have the rest of the time to surf, to do art, to do all kids of stuff, and that's how it should be."

"There's this conservative myth that say, like, if everyone had their basic needs cared for, that they would just sit around all day," Ing said. "But that's just not the reality, that's not how our minds work." If you asked people what they'd do if they didn't have to worry about their basic needs, he said, "the answers are amazing. People would start businesses, they'd get into art, get into music, all these things that are lacking in our world. All this stuff is possible." The democratic socialist wing of the Democratic Party, apparently led by New York's Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, had a rough Tuesday in the Midwest and Washington State, but if they explain their ideas like this, who's going to take the pro-daily grind side? Peter Weber

May 30, 2018

Dan Helmer is a Democratic candidate for a House seat in Virginia, and his latest campaign ad is so normal — until it isn't.

The clip starts off as these things usually do: Helmer wants you to know he's smart and principled, not like those other politicians, and he highlights a few key planks from his platform. Then things take a turn. "After 9/11, the greatest threat to our democracy lived in a cave," Helmer says in a voiceover while a picture of Osama bin Laden appears. Then, cutting to a picture of President Trump, Helmer adds, "Today, he lives in the White House."

For Virginia Democrats who would prefer a candidate who does not compare the president to the mastermind of 9/11, Helmer is one of several candidates still competing in their party's primary, which goes to a vote June 12. Watch the spot below. Bonnie Kristian

September 12, 2016

Donald Trump reminded "tens of millions of Americans" of the names Hillary Clinton has called them in a new campaign ad released Monday. Using footage from Clinton's speech to "wealthy donors" Friday, Trump's new ad shows Clinton dubbing half of his supporters as belonging to a "basket of deplorables," that, Clinton said, includes being "racist, sexist, homophobic, xenophobic, [and] Islamophobic."

"People like you, you, and you: deplorable," the ad says, panning to crowds of Trump's supporters at his rallies. "You know what's deplorable? Hillary Clinton viciously demonizing hard working people like you."

The 30-second spot is set to run in Ohio, Pennsylvania, North Carolina, and Florida. Watch it, below. Becca Stanek

April 15, 2016

Sen. Bernie Sanders is wasting no time resuming his attacks on "Washington politicians" who are "paid over $200,000 an hour for speeches" after Thursday night's debate with Hillary Clinton. In a new ad released Friday — which doesn't mention Clinton by name, though it's not hard to read between the lines — Sanders lambasts politicians who are willing to accept exorbitant speaking fees but won't consider raising the minimum wage.

"While Washington politicians are paid over $200,000 an hour for speeches, they oppose raising the living wage to $15 an hour," the ad says. "Two hundred thousand dollars an hour for them. But not even 15 bucks an hour for all Americans. Enough is enough."

With the release of this new campaign spot, Sanders will have to give up bragging rights about never before running a negative campaign ad. You can watch the ad below. Becca Stanek

February 18, 2016

While Bernie Sanders has been applauded for breaking from the traditional campaign ad with his creative and moving TV spots, Hillary Clinton's team has begun to experiment with how to touch viewers, too. Specifically, her newest ad, "Brave," is an appeal to the Hispanic voters in Nevada, where a neck-and-neck race with Sanders appears to be brewing.

As The New York Times writes, the opening scene "not so much [resembles] a polished advertisement as a clip from a reality TV show." The camera is wobbly, the focus imprecise, and the audio rough enough to warrant subtitles. Dated Feb. 14 in Nevada, the ad shows a young girl telling Clinton that her parents have a letter of deportation. She begins to cry.

Clinton calls the girl over and the rest of the ad shows her consoling the child. "You're being very, very brave, and you have to be brave for them, too. Let me do the worrying. I'll do all the worrying, is that a deal?" Clinton says.

Her words visibly leave the room in tears — and no doubt Clinton's campaign is hoping they do the same statewide in Nevada. Watch the unusual ad, below. Jeva Lange

February 11, 2016

In a new campaign ad out Thursday, Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders calls on people of all genders, ethnicities, races, ages, and sexualities to come together and bring his political revolution to the Oval Office. The 60-second ad, released just days after the Vermont senator trounced Democratic opponent Hillary Clinton in the New Hampshire primary, flashes face after face onscreen. The individual faces are then torn in half and put together randomly, in a representation of the unity Sanders urges in the ad.

"When we stand together, as white and black and Hispanic and gay and straight and woman and man. When we stand together and demand that this country works for all us, rather than the few, we will transform America," Sanders says in the ad. "And that is what this campaign is about, is bringing people together."

Watch it. Becca Stanek

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