Political Ads vs. Corporate Ads
If you used the phrase “egotism in advertising,” many people would respond:
“Oh, you mean like those awful ads for political candidates?”
The reputation of the ad biz never sinks so low as it does every two years in election season. People feel they need to take a shower if they watch TV too long, because of the mud-slinging.
Even now, weeks later, some TV viewers still have political fatigue, if not a hangover.
I’m not a political analyst, but I am old enough to have noticed that, election after election, campaign ads keep getting more vitriolic, simple-minded and fear-mongering. If even a small fraction of the attacks were true, you’d think this was not a campaign so much as a crime wave. With the ugly visuals, ominous music and menacing voiceover, It’s like the dark corruption you usually only see in Gotham City in a Batman movie.
Political ads and corporate ads are very different. We should understand the differences…
Political ads are more aggressive and contrast-driven because they have to be more persuasive. The aim of a political ad is often to take a little-known candidate from 30% in the polls to over 50% in just a few weeks. If creative directors in corporate ad agencies were told by clients they needed such dramatic results, they’d need a barf bag (which is what one candidate used as a campaign hand-out; with an anti-incumbent message printed on it. He lost.)
Political ads are often designed in synch with a PR strategy. The ad producers know that the media will give them free exposure, previewing or reviewing an ad. To maximize free publicity, political ads are designed to ignite controversy that will promote the campaign message and fuel campaign fundraising. Corporate ads, by contrast, are usually risk-averse. They don’t want ads to generate controversy – things could get out of control for marketing execs.
Political ads are usually low-budget. Most campaigns under the congressional level don’t have the money for expensive production. Even bio spots are often consciously crafted to look home-made, documentary style… Political ads want to convey genuineness, not slickness. Their focus is on persuasive values, not production values. If they have hand-held video footage of an opponent uttering a gaffe, bingo! It may look beastly, but to politicos it’s beautiful. Corporate ads have the opposite sensibility – valuable products deserve the best production values.
Political image-making – especially TV spots – can be an exercise in egotism. There’s a candidate to be satisfied, or at least mollified, and maybe also the candidate’s spouse. The top fundraiser needs to be kept happy and motivated. The pollster wants to see ads that reflect his or her advice. The same is true of the press secretary, who will have to defend the content to skeptical reporters. There are many egos involved, and many speak with the authority of having watched tens of thousands of commercials through the years. They have Everyman Syndrome – “I know what I like, and that’s what most people like.” Corporate ads can also be a committee process – within an agency and within a client company – but the decision-making is usually based on recent market research, past success and failure, and corporate objectives.
The biggest difference between political ads and corporate ads is who makes the final decision in authorizing the spot. In a political campaign, ultimately the candidate decides. “I approve this message.” It’s his or her reputation at stake, and having the right commercials can mean the difference between winning and losing a race. In the corporate world, unless it’s the owner of a firm who appears as the principal spokesman, approving a spot is not as personal or risky.
Those of us in corporate advertising may feel we do superior work to what we see for political candidates – at least below the presidential level. But we should keep our egos in check. Political ad-makers do tough work under tough circumstances. I don’t envy them. On the other hand, I’m glad I don’t have to see their spots for a long while.
My thumb is still calloused from working the fast-forward button on my DVR.
LaunchPad is an award-winning creative agency specializing in interactive media production – creating websites and driving traffic to them through advertising, search optimization, and PR. Headquartered in Watertown, Massachusetts, LaunchPad serves clients throughout the U.S.