This election has been the darkest in my lifetime. Gone are candidates of hope and from Hope. Gone too are the traditional norms of campaigns. The Republican candidate has bought less air time than companies who sell catheters and the Democratic candidate seems fixated on running a traditional campaign come hell or high water.
The most effective ad of this cycle was the Hillary Clinton ad titled “Role Models” which featured many of Trump’s vociferous soundbites paired with images of impressionable doe-eyed elementary schoolers seemingly watching in paralyzed awe. The ad was brilliant in its ability to elicit emotion from the viewer, and without stating the obvious put in context what it would be like if Oval Office addresses basically turn into an oral YouTube comment section.
In addition, in this hyper-saturated political climate, ads also serve as a discussion topic for the morning-afternoon-evening-night shows. An ad may only be played durng commercials in Ohio, but CNN will replay it countless times in order to ask their army of commentators to err, comment.
With that in mind, there are three ads Clinton needs to run to change the game, and namely the conversation. First, she needs to take a fun, light, and unique approach. This election has become overly serious and the mere mention of “Clinton” or “Trump” is enough to make most people wish they had taken a Dramamine. Second, she needs another hit like “Role Models” to contextualize Trump’s unfitness. And third, she needs a raw emotional appeal to the Rust Belt.
The spot opens with the required “I approve this message” bit so that the end effect isn’t ruined. As the federally mandated portion fades out, the opening notes of Johnny Cash’s version of “I’ve been everywhere man” begin. dum dum dum DUM dum DUM.
As the lyrics start, quick (¾ second) images of regular plain Jane Hillary Clinton smiling with folks of every color in the rainbow at county fairs, malls, fields, rallies, and little league games all across the country flash on the screen to the beat. The images would appear match the cities being named, if only to bait the Washington Post into assigning a reporter to fact-check each image.
The ad finishes with a 3 second shot of her lone campaign bus driving on a two lane road through corn fields with “Strong Together” branded across the screen.
This ad is effective because even back when Choice Hotels ran an ad with this song, I would always turn my head when it came on in almost a Pavlovian response to the infectious guitar. Once eyes are on the screen, viewers will be barraged with a fun and lively Hillary, in contrast to the dark and ominous Donald we have come to know.
This ad features short clips of presidents from FDR through Obama during impactful speeches they made. The run of show would open with FDR and continue chronologically:
- FDR: “This day, will live in infamy”
- Kennedy in Berlin: “Ich bin ein Berliner”
- LBJ’s “We Shall Overcome” speech
- Reagan: “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall”
- Clinton speech to families of the Oklahoma City bombing victims
- Bush after 9/11: “I can hear you, the rest of the world hears you, and soon, the people that knocked down these towers will hear from all of us.”
- Obama at the memorial service for the Charleston shooting victims: “As a nation, out of this terrible tragedy, God has visited grace upon us, for he has allowed us to see where we’ve been blind.”
- Donald Trump: “blood coming of her ears, blood coming out her whatever.”
- Screen cuts to snow, rewinds, shows last second of Obama then…
- Hillary Clinton finishing her remarks at the DNC
This ad is effective because the first 7 clips illustrate the immense power of the presidential bully pulpit. They remind people that their choice as president is not only a choice on policy but a choice for the face of the nation. American presidents have enormous consequence on the world and they often do so through addressing the nation in times of crisis or doubt.
The final clips featuring Trump after President Obama’s remarks in Charleston contrasts a president who bears the responsibility of healing and empathy so personally with someone who shoots verbal bullets from the hip and cares not who he offends.
Two workers nearing retirement age, dressed blue jeans and a tucked in shirt, with just enough belly to make you picture them sitting on a porch swing, address the camera through a black and white lens. In between full body shots of them talking, the ad focuses on their hands, calloused and worn, evidence of a lifetime of work. They explain how contracts for buildings were their lifeblood, how it paid for their kid’s college tuition and for the roof above their head. Then they raise the point that businessmen like Trump who voided contracts or failed to pay brought businesses like theirs to ruin.
The ad ends with a closeup shot of the man’s hands in his lap going from clasped to open as one does in defeat as his voice can be heard saying “When you trust someone and they stiff you, as the little guy, what can you do?”
Each of these ads are effective in a different way. The first as a lighthearted interruption, a song that everyone recognizes will certainly make heads turn as it begins. The second would be widely played on CNN and spark conversations about how Trump is viewed as a symbol of America. And finally, the third will remind voters of the little people Trump has made pavement out of on his march to celebrity.
Ads don’t win elections, but they have the power to change conversations and drive narratives. The infamous “Windsurfing” ad against John Kerry in 2004 devastatingly cemented him as a flip-flopper and made him a target of mockery.
After an especially bad week, where Clinton is on the defense for her own errors and those out of her control, a well crafted, clever advertising campaign could shift the conversation back to where she wants it.
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