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Give It Up, Attack Ads
By: Tim Lombardi
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When it comes to advertising and politics, there seem to be only two schools of thought: Negative and Positive. Ideally, we would all love to see the end of the negative attack ad run by nearly all political platforms. Attack ads are hateful and excessive, but they're also wildly successful. In fact, a candidate with a 1,000-ad advantage over a competitor would only see a 0.5% rise in their favor if they ran on a positive campaign strategy.
Even if you're one of those people who groans when one of those dark, negative advertisements interrupts your broadcast, the kind that points out the flaws and threats of the competing candidate, the sad fact is that negative advertising works. While attack ads seem over the top, they use a subtle tactic that is often found in the advertising industry: fear. According to a Washington State University study, negative campaign ads inherently strike a chord with less-committed voters, causing anxiety in the voters they target.
The psychology behind political advertisements is similar to positive and negative reinforcement. Politicians with the lead in the polls have the luxury of running positive advertisements that only work to their advantage because they lead. These advertisements reinforce the majority's stance, sparking feelings of loyalty and pride.
This year, the doubt was directed towards Mr. Obama. Romney ran one of the most negative political campaigns out of any election, but did he have choice? Obama stood on a platform of hopeful messages (“Yes we can!”) and leading with what us marketing folk call the market share. What choice did the Republican platform have but to use negative attack messages? Any other option would simply be poor strategy. The same can be said for any political election.
So, are we are forced to sit through demeaning and controversial advertisements simply because strategists know it will work? Lines are being crossed. Campaign advertising relies on repetition and lots of it, leading to a lower budget of production levels for each advertisement placed. With a lower budget, the pressure falls on the content of the message to make an impact; a recipe for controversy.
There is an alternative, but it’s not one that is going to be so easy for parties to swallow. Don’t focus on beating the opponent or having the last word, or having the most words. Focus on the assets. Build a brand, or enlist professionals that know how to. Don’t rely on getting the last word in to convince the undecided. As Lee Clow would say, "The more mass the media, the more singular the message." It's time for campaigns to focus on the message, rather than the quantity of them.

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About the Author
Tim Lombardi is a Brand Strategy Specialist and Social Media Consultant. He is a firm believer that good advertising makes familiar things seem new, and new things seem familiar. Visit him here.
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