What advertising professionals really think of political campaign ads

What advertising professionals really think of political campaign ads

PoliticsOctober 31, 2016 By Isabelle Kohn

Part of the success of any political campaign is its advertising. How well do candidate's ads and TV spots portray them as the right man or woman for the job?

With this election's record-breaking and completely unorthodox ad spending, this question is more relevant than ever.

Currently, Team Clinton is leading the pack in advertising spending much in the way a Maserati leads a busted VW Bug Hot Wheel toy on a racetrack — her people have dropped roughly 33 percent times the amount of advertising Team Trump has, despite the fact that they're nearly neck-and-neck in polls. Libertarian third-party underdog Gary Johnson has also slithered his way onto polls in all 50 states, a milestone he's managed to achieve through spending 23 times less than even Trump.

Needless to say, some interesting patterns are emerging: of the $149,912,723 million in booked TV and radio spending for these three presidential candidates, $145,299,727 is being spent by the Clinton campaign, and the rest is split unevenly between two men who, at this point, have almost as good a chance of becoming your next president as she does. Nothing makes sense!

Thankfully, we found some people who can help clarify this dissonance: actual advertising professionals.

Everybody, meet Bob Guerrero (Digital Integrated Producer at Saatchi & Saatchi), Ryan Simpson (Director and Editor at Plus Productions) and Chris Whitehead (Associate Creative Director at Campbell Ewald).

They're here to help us make sense of some Hillary Clinton, Donald Trump and underdog Gary Johnson TV spots to figure out, from an advertising standpoint, if they're as successful with their marketing as they are making us want to rip our eyelashes out.

Here's what they had to say about some of the candidates' most popular ads:

Hillary Clinton Trump KKK Attack Ad

Ryan: Often times, the best form of advertising is the simplest form of advertising — show it. A product: show how it works. A cause: show what it does, who it benefits. A problem: show how you would fix it. This works well when your product, your cause, your solution to a problem is sound. It doesn't work well when it's not. In this ad, Trump is the problem, and Hillary is the ... name at the end of the video. Nowhere in here do we hear what she will do to address the problem of racism in this country, nor are we even treated to a shot of her face. It does a great job of setting up Trump as evil, but Hillary is not adequately presented as who will save us from that, and that's frustrating from a directing standpoint: there's no resolution. A missed opportunity.

Chris: This is an interesting and scary spot! While it's not hard to connect that racist, almost-completely-orange buffoon to rednecks, it does feel a little 'Michael Moore' in that it has a very clear agenda and kind of butts facts up together to almost come across as a little "conspiracy theorist" with the footage of the groups used that support him. It's great that it's single-minded, but I almost can't blame Donald for the groups that support him. I'm sure there are plenty of racists that follow Hillary as well. There is just so, so much terribly racist and minoirty-fear-mongering shit Donald has said himself that could sell that contention even harder. I like the URL written like a "resource" too.

Bob: TOO MUCH. There is too much of everything: talking, news clips, racists, information. But the music makes me feel like I'm in a period drama, or cooking show. With stuff like this, always go shorter. Shorter is better. This spot is like midget wrestling — you feel really bad about even watching, but if you are going to do it anyway, shorter is better. I'd say this falls into "long form web content" which is usually a black hole of shitty videos. This one is bearable, because fuck racist bigots.

Hillary Clinton: Role Models

Ryan: Clinton's role model ad shows a monster in Trump by replaying his sexist, racist remarks while the children of the US watch on. It's an effective spot made by Droga5. They make advertising for a living. They're great at it. And it follows the simple rule: show it. Show the off-the-cuff slanderous remarks from Trump. Show a seemingly level-headed leader in Hillary. Even more boiled down -- Show Trump's character. Show Hillary's character. This video accomplishes both. It's a win for Clinton's campaign.

Chris: Oh my god, here is the execution I was just suggesting in the previous paragraph! I love this. It feels way more genuine, more powerful. Seeing it through the eyes of the children really hits home how inflammatory, offensive and racist what Donald Trump says is. It makes him seem so dangerous through just playing a series of his own words. Your mind thinks about how those words could affect so much more than just the kids. International relations, lives, security. This may be the art director in me interfering, but the Hillary part could be just her voiceover over the shots of the kids, then only show her for the final kicker: "We need to make sure they can be proud of us." It would kind of reveal her as the savior at the end, and it's nicer to hear her comforting voice than see too much of her behind a podium. Because the tone of her voice is so comforting, but when you see too much of her behind the podium, it reminds you it's "speech" rather than "beliefs."

Bob: Music win, talent win. Good diversity in cast. It's like a case study in hitting every demographic. I appreciate they didn't skimp on the music licensing and the editing is pretty solid, like a B-.

Donald Trump's First Campaign Ad

Ryan: What Trump's ad lacks is what has haunted his campaign really -- he doesn't show how he plans to better anything. He just says that his concept of an America is safe. Show a problem. Show how you would fix it. Problem sort of shown. Solution not shown. The advertisement is made with the same amount of tact that he displays at live events. It's a failure for those expecting a solution. It's a failure for Trump's marketing department. Unless you just fucking love that uplifting music and stars animating onto a screen.
Then you probably love it. Some people love garbage.

Chris: Well, it's obvious he is very clear and focused on what he stands for here: people running through the gates and coming here to steal all the cleaning jobs in his hotels. Lucky them. Fear, fear, fear. Keep them out. out, out. He makes good use of repetition – he's a great marketer. He knows things said often enough will stick. "The system stays rigged against Americans." Aside from this phrase seeming a little simplistic, I find it a little offensive as I know just how many hoops I had to jump through, and how educated I had to be, just to be allowed in the door. But, fear-mongering would probably work on my parents. I'm not the majority. [Chris is Australian].

Bob: Solid B. Good selection of archival footage, like greeeeat pulls. And it really provides an atmospheric quality of the apocalypse. The on-screen supers that are the same thing my ears heard are overkill, but in a weird waym it kinda works. It's like writing in all caps. The music has a fantastic arc, and there are fucking helicopters. No other spot has helicopters. I wish my agency had helicopters. Everyone loves helicopters. The only thing I'd change is add more guns. Actual guns. I'd feel safer with a plethora of guns. I say this because from a marketing standpoint, the spot addresses a consumer's problem: that America is unsafe. Hw does your brand solve a consumer problem? We make it safe again. Advertising theory 101. Oldest trick in the book.

Donald Trump: Laura

Ryan: This has the potential to have been an extremely emotional ad, and I don't want to disregard Laura's pain or her loss, but, from from a director or editor's standpoint ... just showing her as a talking head isn't the best appeal to emotion. In the first shot of Joshua we see, we're not even really sure which one he is (he's in a family photo with four other men), which dilutes his presence as the real heart of this story. Second, the abrupt cut-off at the end sort of trivializes her experience; it's like you're changing the channel on your TV because you're bored. I also don't think that her son was murdered because his killer was an illegal immigrant ... I think it's too much of a stretch and it really shows how the Trump campaign has fed off of fear-mongering as opposed to real, tangible solutions, diplomacy or leadership.

Chris: Whoa. That's heavy. Also pretty niche to be honest. As a completely burned out advertising cynic, I feel sick at the thought of the brief going out from the Trump camp entitled "Find me someone an illegal alien fucked up," which I'm sure is what happened, just cloaked in different adjectives. I don't buy this. It seems sensationalized and exploitative. But again, I'm not the majority. To be honest I could understand something about unemployment rates or dragging down the system if he wanted to go the 'keep them out' angle, but I don't buy that illegal immigrants are coming in intending to murder people's children with pieces of lumber.

Bob: Ah, tears. Everyone in advertising always tries to make people cry with emotional heart warming stories. Thumbs up on tears, but the source of tears? Ehhh, not so much. A dramatic talking head in a single shot is not an atmosphere. Why do I care about this woman? From the production, I'm not sure. There is also a HUGE missed opportunity for a hashtag here. Emotions, check. Something people can sympathize with, check. This could have been a big moment for a "content aggregator" hashtag to stand in solidarity with Laura, like #KeepAmericaSafe or something, but they reeaaaallly dropped the ball here with that.

Gary Johnson/ William Weld: Are #you in?

Ryan: Most people don't want to be told about the world. Most people want to see the world. Gary Johnson's on camera demeanor, along with his running mate William Weld, is approachable. Which is good for them, because it's all we're shown in the spot, aside from title cards. He's had some accomplishments as a governor of New Mexico. He tells us all about them. Then, his running mate tells us about them. It's over some needle-drop music that I'd love to think was purchased at a discount. And it's boring. (And pretty funny if you have the sense of humor that I do.) Show us what your change has meant for New Mexico. Did it make anyone happy? Show those happy people. I'm happy after watching this ad, but only because it's over.

Chris: I like the way they read this. There's something charming and personable about how they interact with each other and are slightly awkward on camera. It's fun and likeable. Their policies are really great and they both seem like likeable people. I think there's something fun about the way they're presented there – but you could take it even further to add to the humor if you wanted. The way they're on white is simple and unassuming, but it's a long script. I think you could break it up more with a few more shots/cuts to keep it moving. Maybe the music needs to be a little less repetitive as well. I wish there was a visual twist at the end, like they both look like they're sitting in their own offices, but they're actually on a joint desk when we reveal the wide shot at the end. Them helping each other with simple things. Like pouring a coffee or something could be funny little touches to break up the dialog. They have good chemistry together. Also the titles work but the treatment and colors are '90s as fuck. Actually the grade on the footage is a bit '90s orange too. It's important because their policies are progressive and little shit like that could make them seem dated.

Bob: This works only if you are have no idea what you are doing buying a car. In that case; yeah, Dealin' Doug is probably a fantastic option. If you have literally no idea what you are voting on, then yes, have these guys tell you. They are reading off the cards BELOW the camera because their production team forgot to get a teleprompter. I stopped watching half way through because at work I have enough fucking old white guys bringing me into their office and telling me how brilliant they are. Fuck off. This is like a vegan restaurant trying to tell me their omelets are better because they don't use eggs. Also, its a problem we struggle with on client projects all the time ... they want to say EVERYTHING in a single spot which is waaaay to much for anyone to retain. And two fucking minutes? Who the fuck does that? Seriously?

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Okay then!

When asked which candidate was most likely to win their vote based on their advertising alone, nobody could quite make up their minds on much other than the fact that two minutes is way too long for a campaign video. Yes, Hillary's "Role Models" video was the best-produced, but Trump's fear mongering does work as a campaign tactic and Gary Johnson is a lovably goofy doofus. They've all got their positives and negatives, and could all improve in certain areas, but at the end of the day, the choice is hard to make.

Damn. They sound like a bunch of Americans or something ...