Get ready to be inundated with TV ads this autumn, with a fair chance that most will feature the grim voice-overs and dark imagery of the classic opponent hit piece.
Minnesota will be home to a highly competitive governor’s race, two U.S. Senate races and four competitive U.S. House races. Outside groups are already pledging to spend millions on TV.
Now that Tim Pawlenty is in the governor’s race, the Republican Governors Association has reserved $2.3 million in airtime this fall. Democratic and DFL-aligned groups will spend millions more.
U.S. Sen. Tina Smith said last week she had raised more than $1.8 million in the first quarter, while her GOP opponent, state Sen. Karin Housley, raised nearly $514,000. Much of that money will likely end up spent on TV. Sen. Amy Klobuchar is likely to spend big, even if she doesn’t need to.
Politicos are getting nervous about all this TV money in the fall. The clutter will make it nearly impossible to get a message through, confusing some voters and disillusioning others.
So, how do you break through with voters?
I asked Sheldon Clay, a creative director at the Minneapolis advertising firm Carmichael Lynch, who has worked on accounts like Harley-Davidson and Subaru.
“First thing I would do is not do what everybody else is doing,” he said. The sameness of political ads, and especially the negativity of them, means “a viewer sees it and in 5 seconds your brain hits fast-forward,” he said.
Clay, who doesn’t work on political ads, said campaigns probably use negative ads because they always have. And because they create an emotional connection — or disconnection, as it were — with the candidate.
A positive emotional connection with the candidate would be a far more effective, though more difficult goal to achieve, Clay said.
He pointed to ads by the late Sen. Paul Wellstone and President Ronald Reagan as successfully creating that bond with voters.
The best approach this year, Clay suggested, might be an emotional appeal as a truth-teller in a time of fake news. By implication then, the other guy is a just another lying politician.
Or, “If I’m a party or candidate, what piece of landscape can I go out and own?” Clay asked. Subaru, for instance, uses the word “love,” and now it’s theirs.
Don’t expect to see much love this fall, however.