Political Action Figures
Bill Hillsman, who directed television ad campaigns for Paul Wellstone, Jesse Ventura, and Ralph Nader, had this to say during a recent interview with Mother Jones:
"If you're running a properly planned campaign, you don't need to worry that much about attack ads. If you've done a good job of targeting, if you've done a good job figuring out how many votes you need to win the coming election, and if you're running your own game plan, you're going to be successful just running that plan. It doesn't matter what the competition does. I know people think this is absolute heresy, but we did it in Ventura's campaign, and to a large degree in Wellstone's first campaign. I think you should generally ignore those kinds of attacks, because all they do is siphon attention and money away from the job you have to do. Attack ads are effective not because of the attack they're making on the candidate, but because the campaign overreacts, takes resources that are badly needed and diverts them to fight on a different field, on somebody else's turf.
If you're a challenger, if you're not the incumbent, you almost have to use contrast ads. I think the difference between attack ads and contrast ads is that in a contrast ad you present a fair picture, and give a factually fair comparison between positions on issues between the two candidates. It becomes an attack ad when you're really stretching the truth and you're doing these ad hominem, slash-and-burn, exaggerated ads – everything to play off the negative emotional cues. I actually don't think those work that well; I think you could prove there's a greater backlash to them than effectiveness. Oftentimes, attack ads "work" simply because they hold down voter turnout. If you're the campaign that stands to benefit from lower voter turnout, you go on the attack, because it makes people who are not that enamored of the political process anyway just stay home. "