Did Superior Ad Tactics Help Hillary In Pennsylvania?

Obama's Unwillingness to Hit Back Hampered Him

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As the dust settles in Pennsylvania, it's time to do an advertising autopsy. Our D.C. chief Ira Teinowitz takes a look and finds the experts declaring Hillary Clinton a bit of an ad victor. She had a lot less money, but she used it well--capitalizing on Barack Obama's "bitter" gaffe and otherwise smacking him around some. And Obama didn't hit back hard enough.

Gordon Robertson, group creative director, told Teinowitz that Obama had to be cautious in order to protect the brand. "You run the risk if you go for the jugular that you are going against the brand," he said. "If he doesn't swing harder, he may not connect, but if you swing harder you may go against the brand."

That's a good point. And the Obama camp is nothing if not disciplined when it comes to staying on that "I'm a new kind of politician" brand -- even if he isn't a new kind of politician and even if he did run his own weak attempts at attack ads.

Making much the same point in Portfolio is Peter Feld, who writes that ads have had little impact in the race thus far -- except when Hillary goes for the throat. "Candidates still spent heavily to broadcast ads, but they were usually bland and reflected little of their intensely combative dialog on the campaign trail."

Interestingly, Feld notes that Obama's attempts to strike back may not have been as effective because there were too many and because his team doesn't have an ear for "natural" language:
By the final weekend, Obama had jumped headlong into negative territory. "Afford" harshly attacked Clinton's health care plan (which "forces everyone to buy insurance even if you can't afford it"), while "Reason" contrasted Obama's new politics against Clinton's divisiveness and negativity.

The late attacks were risky. On the final weekend before an election, it is often too late for an ad to sufficiently reach its target, especially with a split message and fresh topic (health care). Yet Obama's upbeat image took a heavy hit for embracing negative politics....

Obama's reply "Exactly," hit Clinton's donations from "special interest PACs" and "Washington lobbyists" without using voiceover and simple captions to link those entities to unpopular industries, as her ad had. "PACs" and "lobbyists" may have only fuzzy meaning to disengaged voters; Hillary's ads show a better ear for voters' level of awareness, and sharper use of hot-button phrases.