Many Statewide Campaign Ads Focus On Candidates Rather Than Issues

Still image from an ad for Auditor Dave Yost.
Still image from an ad for Auditor Dave Yost.
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This year, we’ve seen some negative ads:

And a lot of positive ads:

We’ve heard those catchy slogans:

And, especially this year, more ads focusing on candidates’ children.

Dr. Rao Unnava is a professor of marketing with the Ohio State University. He said to understand a campaign spot -- or really any advertising message -- you need to go back to the beginning.

“So what you tend to do is you do market research through a lot of resources that you put into it," Unnava said. "Find out what are the hot button issue that they’re thinking about what they would like to hear from you, as what you would like to do for them. And then create campaigns based on those kinds of themes.”

Unnava said incorporating children into ads is an emotional strategy that tries to connect to the everyday voter.

“There’s always a worry in politicians’ minds that they’re out of touch, or at least they’re being perceived as out of touch," he said. "And to avoid that they try to humanize their campaigns that I’m more like you. I have a family. I have children. And so I see the issues that you’re seeing and I can actually respond to them.”

So what about the slogans? The spot for Republican Auditor Dave Yost that you heard earlier repeats the phrase “Yo Yost.” Democrat David Pepper is running for attorney general. His campaign signs and fliers say “Just Add Pepper.”

This is Unnava’s specialty. He focuses on consumer memory, or in this case, voter memory. He says these slogans are especially important for down ticket races.

“So when they go to the voting booth, they look at all the names," he said. "And if they don’t recall who’s whom, they don’t know who to vote for. One way by which we can enhance the memory is by coming up with these slogans or some symbolism that creates in people’s minds a lasting memory as to what the candidate is about.”

The ads featuring children and slogans are known as “soft spots," messages that don’t tackle any specific issues but rather focus on the candidate.

Longtime conservative strategist Neil Clark said this is the time voters start seeing more hard-hitting messages but candidates seem to be sticking to these soft ads.

“Usually at this stage of the game, you wouldn’t be seeing a lot of those spots," Clark said. "But it is a unique campaign cycle in which the Democrats really aren’t putting forth an aggressive campaign for most of these offices, so as a result there is really no need to mention your opponent.”

In the past five gubernatorial elections, dating back to 1994, the lowest voter turnout was 47 percent. The highest was 57 percent. Clark says a good way of judging the effectiveness of this year’s campaign ad strategies is to see if it drives more or fewer voters to the polls.

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