Yesterday, when we watched the Buckeyes game with Penn State at JT’s Pizza and Pub, the vast majority of the TV commercials during the game were for political candidates. The campaign strategists know that, in Ohio, virtually everyone drops everything to watch the Buckeyes on the gridiron, so it is prime time to deliver a message to a captive, very focused, every sense on heightened alert audience. It undoubtedly costs the campaigns a boatload to buy the ad slots, but they figure it is worth it–which is why Buckeye fans were seeing so many political ads rather than the standard in-game car, tire, or “remember to ask your doctor about Altavlid” commercials.
Fortunately, they had the sound off at JT’s, and we couldn’t have heard the voice over of the commercials in any event, over the din of football analysis and “OH-IO” chants. But you don’t really need to have the sound on to follow the political ads. Basically, they fall into two categories: the scary ads and the “humanize the candidate” ads. And it’s immediately clear which category a political commercial falls into, because every ad in either category shares obvious common characteristics. In fact, the touchstones are so commonplace that both Democrats and Republicans use them, and if you run a Google search you’ll find that the British and Canadian political wizards use the same techniques, as the Canadian ad above demonstrates.
Scary ads: Dark, grainy, blurry footage, with quick cuts from one troubling scene to another. Opposing candidate depicted in unflattering poses in slow motion or with some kind of color filter to give him or her a more devilish, unsettling appearance. Children in peril or worried people sitting around their kitchen tables. Messages in large type that appear on the screen like shotgun blasts that usually include the words “we can’t afford.”
Humanize the candidate ads: Candidate is shown in a bulky, woolen, Mr. Rogers-type sweater, carrying a cup of coffee and sitting on the family sofa with their spouse. Candidate makes breakfast or kicks a soccer ball or throws a football with kids. Lots of warm hues and sunshine. Candidate is shown gesturing forcefully to smiling, nodding blue-collar workers, who are deeply absorbed in everything the candidate is saying.
I’ll be glad when November 8 finally arrives and we can go back to watching the Buckeyes, the tire ads, and those helpful spots about the latest miracle drug.