Tired of negative political ads every election? Experts say this is why you see so many of them

ATLANTA — Even if you didn’t know the general election is just over a week away, you’ve probably seen dozens of campaign ads on television, the internet and your social media feeds.

While campaign ads are as old as the republic itself, the first modern ad didn’t start until 1964. It was called the “Daisy Girl” ad. And 56 years after it aired, it’s still the most famous campaign ad of all time.

Democratic President Lyndon Johnson used it to paint his Republican opponent Barry Goldwater as an extremist who was going to get the country into a nuclear war.

“It was 1964 with the ‘Daisy Girl’ spot by Lyndon Johnson against Barry Goldwater that really started the avalanche of what we would call negative spots, negative ads,” said Kennesaw State University political science professor Dr. Kerwin Swint.

Swint told Channel 2′s Richard Elliot that the “Daisy Girl” ad was really the first modern negative campaign ad. Swint said he spoke with the man who created it about why it was so effective.

“He said that television advertising, political advertising is really about touching emotions in both voters who are already there. You’re not trying to convince them of something or send them a message. You’re trying to connect with them on an emotional level, and that’s what the ‘Daisy Girl’ spot did. And connected with them as far as the emotional fear of the public of nuclear war in that case.”

University of Georgia advertising and public relations professor Joseph Watson points out that we see so many negative ads because they work.

“Negative ads are a good way for candidates to define their opposition,” Watson said.

He also points out that those ads rarely come from the candidates themselves. They come from political action committees — groups that aren’t supposed to have direct ties to campaigns.

“Famously, for example, the Willie Horton ad in the 1988 race that attacked Massachusetts Gov. Michael Dukakis was famously not a Bush campaign or a Republican campaign. It was a PAC ad,” Watson said.

Many point to that ad as one reason Dukakis lost that race.

There are also memorable positive ads, such as Ronald Reagan’s “Morning in America,” and ads that make you scratch your head, such as Herman Cain’s “smoking guy” ad a few years back.

Not all memorable ads come from professionals.

Political analyst Bill Crane told Elliot that he worked on Paul Coverdell’s 1992 Senate campaign and said they got a random call one night from a woman named Margie Lott, of Cuthbert, Georgia, with an idea.

“This is essentially the message she left on our answering machine: ‘Let’s put Paul Coverdell in the Senate and put Wyche Fowler out.’ Wyche has proved we don’t need a billionaire, and Georgia wants him out,” Crane said.

Crane credits that jingle by Lott with helping Coverdell close a 22-point deficit and win that election.

“We never know when the lightning is going to strike and which ads are going to be the most impactful and memorable and effective. But more often than not, the ones that are have humor, like the ‘King Rat’ ad, which was very effective when used by Sonny Perdue on the internet,” Crane said.

That 2002 ad portrayed Democratic Gov. Roy Barnes as a giant rat stomping through downtown Atlanta.

It never even aired on TV, only on the internet. But it’s one strategy many experts believe helped Perdue win.

More recently, there was now Gov. Brian Kemp’s ad — Jake and the shotgun.

“My opinion is, from a strategist standpoint, is that ad was genius because it helped them accomplish a lot of goals all at once,” Swint said.

Liberals were appalled at the controversial ad, but it wasn’t aimed at them.

The Kemp campaign used it to attract conservative voters — which it did — and many believe it helped him win the Republican nomination for governor.

“There’s a lot of pressure to do lower budget, quicker ads that are a little bit edgier now,” Watson said.

Watson believes the future of political ads may be on social media where they can produce cheap ads quickly and hope one is good enough to go viral to get even more free exposure.

“So the perfect campaign ad is a little 15-second TikTok video that goes viral, and you don’t pay anything for it?” Elliot asked Watson.

“Correct. I mean, you, didn’t we do a 30-second Tik Tok video or something like that. I mean, you know, that’s the goal if you’re in a campaign. I don’t think they’re there yet, but I think that that’s the desire to get there because it’s inexpensive and efficient when it works, but it’s not reliable,” Watson said.

Watson said that on top of digital ads being cheaper to produce, one can also redirect money from producing the ad to buying the time to air the ad. Also, one can target their audience by tailoring the ads to fit the audience’s social media profiles.

For example, if a candidate wants an ad to highlight their support of the Second Amendment, they can target people who like the NRA Facebook page or follow gun manufacturers on Twitter.

Sometimes, candidates will use negative ads to kind of spoil the pond. They want to make voters so sick and tired of seeing negative ads that those voters don’t want to go vote.

One expert told Elliot that if you can keep one of your opponent’s supporters from voting, then that’s as good as attracting one of your supporters to go and vote.

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