Call a spade a spade

This is a spade. There's no reason to call it anything else. The person you're running against also has a name.   <a style=

Here’s a scenario we run into all too often in political campaigns:

It’s time to start developing a contrast or negative ad or mailer. We send around a draft and the response comes back: “we don’t want to mention our opponent’s name and/or show his picture.”

This is always the wrong decision. Always.

We have yet to see a situation where it’s the right call when a campaign says it wants to do contrast or negative messaging without mentioning the name of the person they’re contrasting with or attacking.

Don’t pussyfoot around when you go on the attack. There’s no upside to doing so.

Understand why you are attacking

When you start contrast or negative messaging, you do it for one reason. To make the person you’re running against unacceptable to voters.

To do that, you have to attach that negative impression to a specific identity. That requires the usage of your opponent’s name and image*.

When a voter goes to cast their vote, you want them to see your opponent’s name and have the name trigger them to recall the negative theme you messaged. That can’t happen if you haven’t clearly and prominently used the opponent’s identity in your messaging.

Dispelling the “I don’t want to give my opponent free name ID” myth

The biggest objection we hear from clients to using the opponent’s name or face is that they don’t want to pay to give “free” name ID to the opponent.

That objection is probably rooted in the old adage that “bad publicity is better than no publicity.” If your contrast or negative messaging is done effectively, you will definitely prove the adage to be very wrong,

The “free” name ID you’re “giving” your opponent isn’t doing him any favors. If the reason a voter can recall your opponent’s name is because your messaging made them dislike your opponent, that’s pretty good in our book.

Still unsure?

Here are two people with high name ID: Mother Teresa and Adolf Hitler.

Pretty much everyone knows who Mother Teresa is. No one has really heard anything bad about her. Everything related to her name ID is positive.

Pretty much everyone knows who Adolf Hitler is too. People born decades after his death immediately associate him with evil at the mention of his name based on all of the negative information used to discuss him.  History books, movies and the like all give Hitler name ID. That name ID wouldn’t be very helpful were he on a ballot somewhere, would it?

People have to know what you’re talking about

The other reason you need to explicitly mention and show your opponent is because if you don’t, the electorate may have no clue who you’re talking about.

Never lose sight of the fact that the electorate is nowhere near as tuned in to the nuances of your race as you are. The farther down the ballot your election is, the less information voters have retained about the race. If you don’t explicitly make the connection between the negative information you are presenting and the person you are presenting it about, voters may not make the connection on their own.

Also, if you don’t explicitly identify who it is you are going after, it makes the whole attack less credible. People wonder why you aren’t mentioning who you’re talking about and wonder what you’re really trying to avoid saaying. That makes them wonder what your angle is, making them skeptical about everything you are presenting in the communication**.

So if you’re going to contrast or go negative, don’t pull punches. Call out your opponent by name, show their face alongside the negative information and call a spade a spade.


*Obviously radio is the exception to the use of the opponent’s image rule. Some small on-line ads also may not have enough real estate to use the opponent’s image.

**This holds true in more than just name ID. We recently saw commercials from two campaigns attacking the opponent for associating with a “radical group” without ever explicitly saying who the group was. Many voters will hear that and immediately wonder why the group wasn’t mentioned, and assume it was because an explicit mention of the group would undermine the spin of the ad. That makes the voter skeptical about everything in the ad and undercuts the effectiveness of the message.

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