4 Mar 2012

Republican mud-slinging in the name of democracy

With Super Tuesday on the horizon, brand consultant James von Leyden assesses the merits – or otherwise – of the Republican candidates’ advertising campaigns.

Republican mud slinging in the name of democracy. (Reuters)

Spare a thought for the poor voters going to the polls on Super Tuesday (6 March).

For the next few days they will have to endure a barrage of mud-slinging, name-calling and confusing statistics, all in the name of democracy.

As Republican candidates battle it out for the party’s nomination, the internecine warfare on the nation’s airwaves has reached new levels of intensity.

Occasionally Mitt Romney, Newt Gingrich or Rick Santorum will raise their head from the parapet to take a shot at President Obama – “Oh yeah, him – the guy we’re supposed to be attacking.”

On Super Tuesday Mitt Romney will be hoping to build on his narrow win in Michigan. His victory in the state was the result of a massive $4m advertising splurge.

Growing Up (see above) shows Romney as a boy growing up in the state and going to the Detroit Auto Show with his dad.

The ad then cuts to the adult Romney driving around in a car, wondering what happened to the auto industry in the wake of the bailouts. Maybe he would have been better off wondering which numbskull allowed him to be filmed in a car that turned to have been made in Canada.

Much has been made of the secretive, privately-funded Political Action Committees (super PACs) and the influence they’re having on the course of the election. The arrival of the super PACs has altered – or rather, lowered – the tone of the messages.

A favourite weapon is the ad which attacks rivals for running attack ads.

Desperate is typical. In the ad, which ran in South Carolina and Florida, the pro-Romney super PAC Restore our Future declares Newt Gingrich’s attacks “foolish, out of bounds and disgusting”. This takes some beating for chutzpah, given the Romney campaign’s track record in the area.

With the super PACs taking care of the demolition work, the candidates’ own messages on TV and radio have tried to project a more positive message. With saccharine music and imagery they seek to portray the candidate as holier-than-thou: the saviour of conservative values.

However, as the battle intensifies, even the candidates have started running negative ads.

In Rombo (above) Rick Santorum has a go at the anti-attack ad, poking fun at Mitt Romney.

A Romney lookalike prows around a vacant warehouse firing bursts of mud at a cardboard cut-out of a smiling Santorum before the gun backfires, showering Romney in mud.

At least this ad tries. Most of the shots fired so far in this campaign have made no effort to engage the voter.

They have relied on stock images, Letraset-level typography and hectoring voice-overs, accompanied by quotes from “reputable” sources (Rush Limbaugh, anyone?).

It means that when an ad comes along that contains half an idea, or a modicum of humour, it stands out.

Ron Paul has tried to wrest the crown of the “true conservative” from Rick Santorum by running the amusing commercial above which accuses Santorum of being a fake fiscal conservative.

The ad uses hammy, cartoon-like graphics and a tongue-in-cheek commentary to inject entertainment value into otherwise boring facts and statistics. “Is this dude serious?” the voice-over asks, calling Santorum’s support of the biggest welfare entitlement programme since the ’60s “not groovy”.

As Super Tuesday approaches, the pro-Gingrich super PAC Winning our Future has been first out of the blocks with a blitz of TV spots.

Waiting Room (above) is unusual in its high production values, although the creative idea is not quite up to the quality of the animation.

The animated commercial shows Mitt Romney in the GOP waiting room, watching TV news coverage of the primaries. He nervously fiddles with a waiting-line ticket while the newscaster (and voice-over) declares that “conservatives are fed up with the establishment picking our candidate for us”. So, apparently, is the stern-faced receptionist sitting behind her computer.

“With the nation at risk, we need a true conservative who acts on principle”. A sudden breeze springs up (as it does in waiting rooms) and Romney’s ticket flies out of the window.

The money spent by the candidates and their Political Action Committees already dwarves the spend during the 2008 election.

In the next few days we can expect to see the heaviest bombardment in the contest so far.

Whether the viewers will be enthused and motivated, or simply bored into submission, remains to be seen.

James von Leyden is a copywriter and brand consultant