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What Makes a Great Political Ad
Dr. Louis Perron - Political Consultant Dr. Louis Perron - Political Consultant
Tuesday, October 12, 2021


Advertising is an unwelcome guest. It allows to influence people who do not care much about politics, which are often the ones to decide an election. Or as they say in the campaign jargon: pay a lot attention to voters who do not pay attention (to politics).

The problem is that many ads are done poorly. What I mean by this is that they sound and feel like, well, political ads. I often realize this when I work in a country where I do not understand the local language: by simply looking at the visuals, and by listening to the voice over, I can feel that it is propaganda. Such ads are usually a waste of money.

I also think that there are important differences between advertising for products and political campaigns. People buy as consumers, but they vote as judges and investors. They are ready for political content, if it matches their demand and is presented in an understandable and appealing way. In that sense, ads should be executed in a way that is visually appealing. If it can include some eye candies, even better.

The main point of an ad is to communicate your campaign message, coherently and forcefully. I always find it funny when clients show me their ads and ask me whether or not I "like" it. It is not a question of like, but whether it moves votes into your corner. An ad is not the place for a long laundry list. It should communicate one main point. What book coach Dan Janal teaches authors is also true for politics: get to the point, make the point, repeat the point. I also suggest that you think about an advertising campaign as a series of ads, as great campaigns are rarely one knock-out punch.

I also often observe that though some voters are not as educated as they would want to be, they are nevertheless not stupid. It is therefore important for an ad not to talk down to voters. In that sense, I am skeptical about ads which are limited to mere endorsements, entertainment, and celebrities. Also, interactions with voters should be genuine and believable.

Ideally, you would test ads in focus groups before running them. It seems like a no-brainer to me, and yet it happens all the time that candidates are so excited about their own ad that they do not bother testing them. On the other hand, I have tested ads where respondents said that it gives them goosebumps. That is how precisely the ads matched their feelings and demands.

And lastly, if a candidate does have an advertising campaign that communicates his message in an appealing way, it is important to give the medicine some time to work. As a rule of thumb, an ad has to air at least three weeks on prime time before making an impact. Many politicians make the mistake of assuming or hoping for an impact too fast. Instead of listening to and reacting to voters, they react to their opponent(s). As a result, their approach becomes an erratic shot-gun attack with ads and messages constantly changing.

Dr. Louis Perron is an internationally renowned political consultant based in Switzerland. He has won two dozen competitive election and referendum campaigns in various countries. His clients include everything from mayors up to senators, members of cabinet, presidents – and a former Miss Universe.

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