Advertising Week 2006

Expect Less Mud to Be Flung in Political Ads

Advisers: Attack Spots Don't Wash With Cynical Voters

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NEW YORK (AdAge.com) -- Cleaner political campaigns? Less mudslinging? Believe it.
Republican media adviser Mark McKinnon said voters have become 'very cynical about political advertising.'
Republican media adviser Mark McKinnon said voters have become 'very cynical about political advertising.' Credit: AP

Expect kinder, gentler political ads from politicians' official campaigns in coming months, said David Axelrod and Mark McKinnon, media advisers and strategists for the Democrats and Republicans, respectively.

'A tough filter'
In a dialogue sponsored by USA Today's Pulse of America series as part of Advertising Week 2006, Messrs. Axelrod and McKinnon discussed what to expect in political-advertising campaigns for both the coming midterm election and the 2008 presidential race. The biggest change they expect voters to notice will be fewer negative ads from the official campaigns. "[Voters] are very cynical about political advertising," said Mr. McKinnon. "They don't believe in political advertising so that's a very tough filter that we have to break through."

"People don't want a lot of spin on the ball," Mr. Axelrod said. "They want simple, direct messages and they are responding to simple, direct messages and if you overshoot that runway, you can hurt yourself."

Ads that hurt instead of help
Both strategists agreed that ads created by tax-exempt organizations not regulated by the Federal Election Commission, known as 527 groups, and videos posted on contagious websites such as YouTube will make their jobs more difficult in adding to the clutter. Mr. McKinnon said 527s are spending more money on advertising right now than the official campaigns, and while their ads are some of the best being seen, they sometimes hurt rather than help the candidate they support.

Despite an increased use of the internet by campaigns for viral buzz on commercials, longer-form messages and quick responses to an opponent's latest ad, Mr. McKinnon does not expect to see spending shift drastically away from TV. Of the hundreds of millions of dollars spent on campaigns now, he sees 75% to 80% of the media budgets still going toward broadcast and cable spots.

"Broadcast is still the nuclear weapon of a campaign," said Mr. Axelrod, suggesting no speech or literature to date will make approval ratings move the way a good commercial will.
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