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The Art of the Negative Ad

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9. Drums Make a Message Pop.

Working for the pro-Huntsman Our Destiny super-pac, Fred Davis realized he needed a powerful effect to drive home his message that the former Utah governor was a true conservative. “After we shot that ad, I thought the graphic information about Jon didn’t stand out enough,” Davis says. “So I put some drums in there, and they were the thing that stood out. If you want something to really pop, drums are a good way to go.”


10. The Best Weakness to Exploit Is a Contrast to Your Candidate’s Strength.

Showing footage of John Kerry tacking back and forth in Nantucket, 2004’s windsurfing ad provided comic punctuation to a theme the Bush campaign had been driving from the beginning: Kerry was a flip-flopper who changed his positions based on political expediency. “Bush’s greatest strength was he was a strong, decisive leader—you may not have agreed with him, but you knew where he stood,” says Dowd. “The exact opposite of that is a flip-flopper.”


11. Make Your Opponent Look Good.

It might be tempting to show your political adversary at his or her most unflattering, but it’s a cheap trick that will backfire. “You want to use the best photo of your opponent you can,” says Davis. “If you don’t, people aren’t going to find your message credible.”


12. Target Your Ads at People You Can Convince.

Entering September 1994, a little-known Massachusetts Senate candidate named Mitt Romney looked to be on his way to unseating Teddy Kennedy. Kennedy’s team fought back by exposing Romney’s business record with a series of television spots featuring striking workers at a Bain Capital–owned plant. Female employees dominated the ads. “It’s not a coincidence,” says Devine. “They were the target voter. Non-college-educated women were very soft in that election, and there were a lot of them.”


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