Red or Blue, The Midterms Were Green For Advertising

Most political ads suck. Not just for the obvious reasons, like they talk down to you, are too negative, or don’t feel original in any way. More importantly for how much money is being spent and how passionately most Americans feel about the significance of the outcome, our Audiolytics™ system identifies how much money and opportunity has been wasted in this latest election cycle.

However you feel about the outcome of yesterday’s midterm election, one thing is for clear; this election cycle generated a lot of green for the advertising industry. Kantar Media estimates $900 million was spent on digital, nearly three times the estimate in 2014, while local cable and broadcast TV alone drove an estimated $3.8 billion (a 40% increase from forecasts during the last midterm). 

For the record, The Influencer is neither red nor blue; it’s black and white. In a recent article, (which to our knowledge, is about as unbiased as an internet news site can get) listed what they deemed to be the best and the worst political ads of this midterm season. In this week’s edition of the Influencer, we will break down some of our favorites, and show how even the best of the bunch leave much to be desired, performance-wise.

Rather than discuss any of the candidates’ political agendas, we will evaluate the commercials using Audiolytics™, the Oxford Road tool that scores advertising messaging based on a binary evaluation of 9 core components and 71 subcomponents.

As a refresher, here are the 9 main components of Audiolytics™:

Setup – Did we capture the audience’s attention while identifying the problem solved or opportunity presented?
Value Prop – What are our solutions and core benefits?  

Positioning – What are the alternatives to our solution? Why is our way better?
Demonstration – How does it work?
Substantiation – Why believe us?
Offer – What extra value will you receive for responding to the ad?
Scarcity – Why is there urgency around making this decision?
Path – What steps must be taken following the ad?
Execution – How well did the writing and production of the commercial enhance the elements above?

All of the ads we’ve analyzed bombed when measured by Audiolytics™. And for good reason; every one failed to really include Offer, Demonstration, Scarcity, or Path. Obviously, there are key differences between selling a product and a candidate but there could have been a way to creatively utilize the missing components to make every one of these ads perform more effectively.

Unless you’re Pedro from Napoleon Dynamite, an Offer may seem problematic, but consider all the kitchen table conversations and things that keep people up at night, that politicians are allegedly here to help solve; fixing roads, cleaner water, money in your pocket. The potential offers that a campaign can and should drive (with an honest intent to deliver) are endless. Note: That is not a recommendation to fill these ads with empty promises. But rather, clear, meaningful expressions of future value, backed up with specific outcomes that a candidate can achieve through their platform.

Demonstration could have been accomplished by the candidate explaining specifically how they would “get the job done”. “I’ll create jobs by doing “ABC”, or “I’ll clean up this town by doing XYZ” – however they propose fulfilling their promise, Demonstration is a key component of any direct response ad and it’s a major misstep from all of these candidates for not including it.  

Scarcity could mean election day, opportunity cost, or the compounding pain of the status quo. An easy addition of, “Elect me before things get worse.” By the way, like Cyber Monday, there is an actual organic deadline built into every one of these messages. The significance of missed opportunity or increased pain if people fail to act by election day is low hanging fruit that each of these candidates could have benefited from.

Path could be a mention of vote by mail, polling locations, or even driving viewers to a specific website to take action.

So we’ve shared how every ad here was terrible from an Audiolytics™ perspective and why not a single one beat a score of 51 out of 100. Now let’s talk about what they did right. Here are the ads in no particular order:

Pete Stauber – Northern Minnesota Audiolytics™ Score 44.4

Pete did a lot right in this ad.  Aside from not being creepy (keep reading) this ad for the Republican congressional candidate from Minnesota hit 4 of the key components of Audiolytics™. In the Setup, Pete gets the family to brag about his past accomplishments to build trust through Substantiation. Then he moves into a solid Value Proposition of getting things done and executes Positioning to show how he will be looking past political party lines. And all of this substance wrapped with a gentle dose of Minnesotan charm. That said, he left a tremendous amount of value on the table. Common in these commercials, as we shall see, but a missed opportunity nonetheless. What is he getting done, exactly? Three simple bullet points as a graphic could l have demonstrated how he proposes to add value to the lives of constituents. Why is this urgent? He also failed to ask for the vote, giving them a path and call to action. It’s not a bad commercial, but it just could have been so much more.

Katie Hill – Southern California Audiolytics™ Score 44.4

First of all, Katie Hill is a badass. The democratic candidate from our own backyard (Oxford Road’s Creative Director Stew Redwine’s district to be exact) nailed many aspects in the Audiolytics™ framework. The execution was brilliant with Katie scaling an enormous boulder as an analogy of how hard she’s willing to work. The execution aligns well with the Setup that states it’s (climbing the boulder) “not as hard as running for Congress while corporations are backing the other guys.” The Substantiation is underscored by the fact that this woman is hanging 100ft in the air telling you she will work hard. We believe you, Katie, now please get off of the rock! Like Pete, and really the rest of the ads we’re showcasing today, this badass woman could have had an even more badass campaign spot if she would have included much of the missing key components.

Matt Rosendale – Montana Audiolytics™ Score 55.5

This ad, while embarrassingly calling the Second Amendment (the right to bear arms) “Article II” (which states how the President is elected), actually scored higher than any other ad in this analysis because it included both Positioning and Substantiation together. Which brings up an important issue – even if you have a great ad from an Audiolytics™ standpoint, it’s probably best to check your facts before you send it off to the TV stations. Apparently, Matt’s team quickly discovered the error and replaced this ad with a factually correct version. Despite the fact that this ad technically beat all of the others in Audiolytics™, even this gun-waiving candidate with a magical paint-changing pickup truck, could have improved his campaign’s effectiveness had he included every aspect of the proven Audiolytics™ formula.

Dan Helmer – Virginia Audiolytics™ Score 33.3

There is a lot wrong with this ad (Mr. Helmer looking like a complete tool, namely). While he probably broke a couple of copyright laws in the creation of his Top Gun themed campaign message, we applaud the creative bravery. The message was clear that he approves of town halls, bad singing, and this message. Unfortunately, Mr. Helmer didn’t make it to yesterday’s election, he was defeated in the June primary after receiving only 12% of the votes. Get ‘em next time Maverick. A word to the wise for new products and new candidates; don’t get too carried away in your creative, when there are more easily proven formulas to follow.

There is much room for improvement in what appears to be a very stagnant and unimaginative space, except for you, sweet Dan Helmer. Perhaps Oxford Road can lend a hand in years to come. Kanye 2020 anyone???


At the time of publishing, here is how these ads actually worked:

Pete Stauber – Northern Minnesota 50.7% WIN

Katie Hill – Southern California 51.3% WIN

Matt Rosendale – Montana 47.8% Undetermined – Losing

Dan Helmer – Virginia Crash and Burn

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