Campaign Ads Nauseam


Friday, October 05, 2012

Still from ad for Mitt Romney 2012 presidential campaign Still from ad for Mitt Romney 2012 presidential campaign (Romney for President, Inc.)

The real problem with campaign ads today, Kurt Andersen thinks, isn’t that they’re mean, or contain fuzzy numbers. It’s that they’re boring. Why?

In the 1950s, when the first campaign commercials hit TV, they were created by the top advertising talent of Madison Avenue — starting with 1952’s catchy jingle for Dwight Eisenhower. In 1968, an ad famously belly-laughed at Spiro Agnew as a candidate for vice president. "The same people that would do great commercials for products and services would also do political commercials," advertising veteran Bob Gardner tells Kurt. “But this ended a few decades ago. The political priesthood took over and they decided that Madison Avenue did not know how to do political ads, that political ads were a breed apart, and that was not the same thing as selling soap and toothpaste."

To Gardner, today's ads seem pedestrian and tiresome. Take these two spots about tax policy from the Romney and Obama campaigns.


"They're so similar, one person could've done both," Gardner says. And he isn’t hopeful for more creative ads later in the campaign. "I know the Romney people have Madison Avenue as part of the team, but the control is still on the political side,” he explains. “If you break the rules and you lose, you’re gone — you're banned from the Beltway."

Bob Gardner has worked on several political campaigns over the years, including Gerald Ford's 1976 presidential race. (He even wrote the music and lyrics for the song “I’m Feeling Good About America,” used in this Ford ad.) Gardner believes the Romney campaign missed its chance to introduce the candidate creatively. "I don't think they defined who Mitt Romney was," Gardner says. "They let the Obama people talk about [Romney] being Bain Capital, and a ruthless capitalist, plutocrat, and I think that really drove up his negative.”

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Bob Gardner

Produced by:

Michele Siegel

Comments [8]


Jon -- thanks much for the catch!

Oct. 23 2012 09:59 AM
Jon from NYC

Nice headline, but just for the record: it's "nauseam," not "nauseum."

Oct. 10 2012 08:46 PM
Lojo from Silver Spring, MD

Kurt - you left out the main reason why the political consultants control all the ads -- money. They have continued to get a percentage of the ad buy (I've heard as much as 10%) from political clients.

As your friends on Madison (and Greenwich Ave) will tell you agencies haven't gotten a big cut of the buy since the days of Mad Men. This is a great deal and has made the political consultants rich (and the top guy in the campaign).

So, these guys are fierce about controlling the business. And, because signing a big name consultant gives a new candidate enough credibility to raise lots of dough, they have a lot of influence over new candidates.

Side note: makes you think about why the SuperPac are so focused on :30 ads (even though the ads put out don't seem to be working)..

Oct. 08 2012 03:05 PM
Bennett from New York, NY

What about the "grassroots ad campaigns"? Perhaps they were created as a solution to the dreary lameness of the TV spots. Special interest groups have made some pretty funny videos and put them on the internet:

To fully appreciate this, you need to see the original Gangnam Style video on youtube that has been watched by 400 million people since it came out this summer.

Oct. 07 2012 01:14 PM

Political ads are a waste of time and money.
They only add to the buying and selling of our government.

Oct. 07 2012 12:04 PM
Jack Jackson from Central New Jersey

Change the rules. Require broadcast, cable and print outlets to present campaign advertising at cost + 4% -- free during the last 2 weeks of a campaign. This should limit but not eliminate their willingness to fill the air w/ bullsh*t.

Oct. 07 2012 11:17 AM
jacquiedavis from Silver Spring, MD

This week was so very perfect! Mark Helprin's book Winter's Tale was one of my very favorite books ever. I also read it when while living in NYC when it first came out. And I got wind of My Brightest Diamond a little less than a year ago, and thought it to be the most amazing new music ever. I turned shared this with some of my musician friends, and they liked it, but not nearly as much as I did. The steam punk segment was cool, too, because I've been so curious about this genre for a while now.

All around perfect segment! So needed this Autumn day whilst stuck in bed with the plague. Or a cold. One or the other.

Oct. 06 2012 03:01 PM
Bob from Washington, DC

I liked this piece, but was expecting to hear something that I didn't end up hearing. Isn't it true that one school of thought in advertising considers it a positive for an ad to be "forgettable"? I don't know everything about the topic but it's my understanding that one technique in effective advertising is to simply associate a brand (here, a candidate) with a feeling in the viewer's mind. Certainly that seems to be the more effective approach for, say, propaganda. Repetition helps. Subliminality helps. Creativity can actually raise the message to the level of consciousness, where it might get (horror!) fact-checked.

Oct. 06 2012 07:25 AM

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