When ads go bad. Two cardinal sins of campaign advertising.

You can tell I’m missing the biennial political campaign season when I pounce with glee all over sightings of advertising for municipal contests. Unfortunately, some of these ads are just plain awful.

Not just a little bad, but those who designed them should be taken out back and beaten with wet spaghetti noodles for violating some basic rules in designing political advertising. I’ve been helping candidates do this for over 20 years myself, and these were things taught to me by friends who have been in the business for many years before that.

Below, is an ad for Pierre City Commission candidate Jeanne Goodman which appears at the bottom of today’s Capital Journal. And sorry, but it’s just plain bad.

bad-adThe first cardinal sin that caught my eye – what is that word in the advertising? Is that “jote” or a dyslexic ‘lote’? Yes. I know it’s “vote,” but the sin is incorporating a graphic element into the text that makes it especially difficult to read. It’s even worse when candidates resort to doing goofy graphic things with the letters in their own names. Then they’re just spending money to shoot themselves in the foot.

The second cardinal sin – what is Jeanne spending $100-150 to market in a full color ad ? Is she marketing voting or her candidacy? Because “vote” is the most prominent thing in the ad, not her name. She’s not spending money just to get them to VOTE. She’s spending it to get them to vote for her. Coca-cola doesn’t put SODA as the most prominent or recognizable item on their cans or in their advertising. It’s “Coca-cola.” So why do candidates paying thousands to market themselves allow their own ‘brand’ to be secondary or worse?

Now aside from those two glaring errors, it isn’t terrible in that the two main things she’s seeking to communicate – name and office are still prominent in the ad. It’s just that they aren’t the primary focus as they should be.

Aside from the two cardinal sins, there are a few minor ones that would only earn you one or two ‘Hail Marys’ in the confessional. There’s a distinct lack of balanced white space in the ad to draw your eye in. The entire right hand portion of the ad looks like it was just slapped up there without a thought. Is it supposed to be left justified? Is part of it centered? It’s hard to tell.

Are any of these minor things hard and fast rules? Of course not (just those described as cardinal sins). There are many rules of advertising – such as the rule of thirds – and variations which break those rules intentionally. The biggest thing to remember that campaign advertising is no different than traditional advertising – you are trying to sell a product (a candidate), and you are trying to do so in a manner which clearly communicates your message (vote for candidate) in a clear and concise manner.

3 Replies to “When ads go bad. Two cardinal sins of campaign advertising.”

  1. Bree S.

    A fascinating topic, PP, I can see why you posted it. Its interesting that a Democrat puts “Progressive” on her sign – a fact that should scream “Don’t Elect Me!” to the majority of South Dakotans – and yet manages to get elected in Pierre, that bastion of Republicans.

  2. Patrick

    Pierre municipal elections are non-partisan, and while it wouldn’t make a bit of difference to me I’ve never seen a “D” behind Jeanne’s name.

    I won’t argue the ad needs help, that might speak more of the graphics department at the Capital Journal than of Jeanne’s qualifications for public office.