Super politics ad ideas

The quantitative ratings of ads diverged somewhat in their methods and conclusions. USA Today sponsored traditional dial-tests, utilizing a panel of viewers to rate each ad on a moment-to-moment basis. TiVo evidently has a means of looking at ads’ replay, a measure that The Miami Herald’s Glenn Garvin (who also writes for TiVo) says “reflects which ads engaged viewers the most, measured in terms of how many times they were rewound and replayed.”


In general, the two sets of ratings supported some common conclusions. Comedy cracks us up and cheesecake crumbles. The top-rated ads were mostly humorous, but the cheesy GoDaddy girls didn’t work, at least on the levels tested. The dial groups gave the Snickers/Betty White ad its top rating, while TiVo assigned that honor to Doritos’ “House Rules” ad, in which a kid puts his mama’s suitor on notice. USA Today had the TiVo winner down at No. 11, still respectable, while TiVo had USA Today’s No. 1 as its No. 2, so there’s some consensus.

The two methodologies diverged widely on Focus on the Family’s “Celebrate Life” ad. TiVo had this as No. 3 overall, while the dial groups sent it toward the bottom of the list, ranking 54 out of 63. These may both accurately capture dimensions of the ad. The dial groups, most influenced (in my own experience) by over-the-top audio and video, thought the ad was a snoozer in real time. But the ad begged to be rewound and looked at again. What did Tebow’s mom say? Why is it all white? Is that all there is? A thousand questions beg to be answered.

Besides the quantitative take on the ads, there were hundreds of qualitative reflections. The New York Times’s Stuart Elliot came to the conclusion that nostalgia was “a critical component of the pitches.” Michael Slezak at Entertainment Weekly had Denny’s frantic chickens at No. 3 because he’s “a sucker for anthropomorphic ads.”

If these Super ads represent the state-of-the-art in communications, how would political ads measure up? Normally, not very well. But some can compete. In Texas, Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison (R) inserted locally a highly produced and funny attack ad against Gov. Rick Perry (R). The Super Bowl informs us that we need more humor and animals, like Roger Ailes’s legendary hound dogs looking for Dee Huddleton and Mike Murphy’s talking cow telling Iowans, “Don’t Gamble on Campbell.” Even the low-rated GoDaddy ads modeled a useful name ID-building goal. Name ID and Web hits are something every campaign needs.The Tebow ad is particularly useful because it leveraged news attention outside the ad itself. By underselling its message, it proved that less can be more.

Candidates and their spot-makers need to study these reels and see that there is more to effective advertising than the “walking and talking” that typifies too many political ads today.

David Hill has been a Republican pollster since 1984. This cycle he is polling for gubernatorial campaigns in four states.