Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Who Says Negative Ads Don't Work?

A still from LBJ's 1964 "Daisy" campaign ad, widely considered the first negative television ad. Click to watch.

Although voters say they don't want negative ads, the fact is, such ads work. This doesn't mean candidates should revert to boogeyman campaign tactics - Democrats shouldn't stoop to GOP tactics by resorting to distortions, lies and half truths. A Daisy style ad today might be a bit much, even if it were a legitimate vision of where the Country might be in the future based on facts about a candidate. But telling the truth in an a matter-of-fact way can produce results. The fact that tough, "negative" ads work has been known to Republicans for years. It's the Democrats who haven't gotten the memo.

Team Dukakis Obama has been stuck on the idea (since 2007/08) that negative ads should be avoided and that voters only respond to positive "America is a shining city upon a hill" commercials..."negative ads don't work". Of course this is complete nonsense. This may have been true at one time....  but it definitely hasn't been the case for the past 4 or 5 election cycles. Obama & Co. also has a tendency not to pre-empt opponents on negative ads...and they fail to respond aggressively to such ads once they are put out, particularly those with false or misleading information. The takeaway message from an NPR report last week on negative ads, should be that you have to fight back. I hope someone in the Obama camp is paying attention. John Kerry didn't get the message. He fell hard for the "Americans want to see a nice, happy, positive campaign" nonsense. Gov. Dukakis also learned the hard way. No longer can you just sit around and allow misinformation to fester and spread... especially in the age of digital media. A death panel can go from a conspiracy theory to a fact (although completely can have the impact of a fact) in just a few days if left unanswered. This is what happened to the Affordable Care Act. The Democrats rolled it out without the proper preparations in place to defend it. Within a few months... the legislation was trashed by a huge negative ad campaign by the GOP and its allies. In the process, Republicans managed to successfully rebrand the legislation"Obamacare". If it takes negative ads to refute lies... then so be it. But you can't wait too long to respond. By the time Obama and the Democrats began to address the death panel nonsense... it was too late.

Whether team Obama plays the game or not.... they are going to be on the receiving end of negative GOP ads no matter what. And Romney & Co. will have an almost unlimited flow of cash to help them do it. The best way to deal with it is to fight back. Sometimes you have to fight fire with fire. I personally don't prefer a candidate to go the negative route. But on the same token, you have to play by the rules of the game that you find yourself in. This is the American system at the moment. In the absence of 'The Fairness Doctrine', which I believe should be brought back, you have to do what you have to do....and sometimes that means getting a little dirty (it's fine to get tough, as long as you are using fact based information). Obama will either have to play the game... or risk a real nail-biter, or perhaps an upset in November.

No comments: