Ad Wars: Going Negative, PAC-Style

In the days since John McCain’s “Celeb” ad hit the airwaves and YouTubes last week, Barack Obama has come out with two new ads (“Low Road” and “Pocket“) criticizing his opponent, and political action committee MoveOn.org has made one of its own, called “Gimmick“:

A middle-aged voter speaks to the camera, speaking to Senator McCain and criticizing his offshore drilling plan as a “gimmick” and not a real solution. The ad is pretty simple and is done in the same style as their earlier 30-second spot “Not Alex” – a character speaks to Senator McCain and challenges him on his opinions, in a way meant to connect a watcher to the voter on screen. “Gimmick” probably won’t receive the same media attention that “Not Alex” got – that ad was about a more divisive issue, the Iraq War, and its content (a mother telling John McCain that if he was counting on her newborn son to fight in the Iraq War, “You can’t have him”) proved more jarring to voters. But I think the style of ads MoveOn has been using might prove effective.

In the negative ads put out by both candidates, the campaigns could come across as distant – a commercial that simply goes after their opponent and seems to say at the end, “oh by the way, vote for me” can lack a personal connection. Granted, the MoveOn ads can be just as negative, but the way the message is presented, a single character talking directly to the candidate and directly to the audience (with no transitions, music, or other interruptions) can connect more with voters. Also, in both “Gimmick” and “Not Alex,” MoveOn tries to appeal to parents, and makes the argument that a McCain Presidency would be bad for their children. Sure, these are your run-of-the-mill attack ads, and in an election already tense with negative campaigning, there is the issue of voter fatigue with these kinds of messages. But ads like “Gimmick” and “Not Alex” may prove more effective than the stylized ads put out by either campaign, because of their ability to form personal connections with viewers – and voters.

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