Pulpit Bulls

Policy, Politics, and What's In Between

Al Franken and the Nature of Commericials

Posted by Eric on July 8, 2009

David Kurtz observes that the National Republican Senatorial Committee (NRSC) is running a misleading ad featuring Franken flailing his arms about — a rehash of a tactic Coleman utilized in his failed re-election bid. Franken took this dishonest portrayal head-on in his 2008 campaign:

I’d like to take this in a different direction and use the above spot to note that advertisements rebutting your opponents’ smears is incredibly underused. That’s not to say it’s always smart — in many cases you don’t want to highlight and repeat a smear against your candidate, especially considering how many casual commercial viewers would presumably just catch the smear and ignore the surrounding content. This is a concept that television writer Alex Epstein recently explored on his screenwriting blog, by suggesting that people don’t remember “not” very well. Epstein suggests that when people hear Barack Obama is not a Muslim or Richard Nixon is not a crook, they deduce it to Obama is a Muslim and Richard Nixon is a crook.

So, yeah it is dangerous territory, but campaigns always push back against false or damaging attacks and there isn’t any persuasive reason to believe that campaigns can’t effectively push back in commercial form. A personal anecdote: I worked on a political campaign where our very honorable candidate had his patriotism smeared in our opponent’s frequently-aired commercial. Our campaign reluctantly decided that it was better to leave the ad unanswered on the airwaves and never ran a counter-commercial. This may have ultimately been a smart play, but it’s worth considering what would have happened if we had launched a commercial proclaiming that Scuzzy Opponent is launching so-and-so attacks, then blasted Scuzzy Opponent for voting against increasing benefits to military families. Or something — you get the idea.

Perhaps with Sen. Franken’s victory we’ll see more candidates undertake this type of strategy in 2010 and future elections.

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2 Responses to “Al Franken and the Nature of Commericials”

  1. […] (at the always excellent Pulpit Bulls) makes a smart point about the utility of responding to negative campaigning: I’d like to take this in a different […]

  2. Packherd said

    I think the best-case-scenario is usually to turn the smear around in an unexpected manner. For example:

    While Scuzzy Opponent is attacking me [Don’t say for what, tho], he’s trying to deny important medical services to vets. The men and women who defend our precious freedoms – like the freedom of speech and the freedom of religion – deserve better. And as your Official, I won’t rest until they get it.

    The absolute best attack IMO is one that shows your opponent does not really support/believe/stand for what s/he says s/he does.

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