ELECTION 2012
10:53 am
Mon November 5, 2012

Campaign Ads in the Final Days

Credit Edwart Vissar / Flickr Creative Commons

By Wednesday, one soundtrack to this election will subside — and few people will miss it. Those campaign ads that have dominated the airwaves one after another... after another. But before we bid farewell to campaign ads for now, we wanted to take a closer look. Do the ads work? What better place to check than in Massachusetts' 6th Congressional District where you may now know the candidates, even if you don't live in the district.

In these final hours leading up to Election Day, voters continue to be deluged with a glut of political advertising. When one ad ends, another immediately follows, providing minimal respite for the TV viewer.  And the ads from incumbent John Tierney and his opponent Richard Tisei do not disappoint, getting heavy rotation in theevening hours. There are specific ads that are seeing heavy airtime, too, like the one titled, “Honor.”

You’ll likely see it a dozen more times before you head to the polls. But that’s just it— does heavy rotation of these ads have any impact this close to Election Day? Tobe Berkovitz is a political media consultant and professor of advertising at Boston University, and says the nonstop bombardment of these ads may dilute their effectiveness.

It takes a lot in the closing week and the closing weekend for any ad to work because voters are so bombarded with one ad after another,” said Berkovitz.

Berkovitz says what Tierney’s campaign is trying to do with this ad is drive a particular message home.

Shift the agenda from a focus on his wife and the illegal gambling money to it’s not about my family, it’s about your family,” said Berkovitz.

But does it work?

"The closing phrase is nice, but I don’t think it’s going to work,” Berkovitz said. “People’s voting records certainly are very important for an incumbent. But in a campaign, it’s about different things. And what this campaign is shaped up on is really about Tierney credibility, Tierney’s image more than Tierney’s votes.”

What about those attack ads—the ones with ominous piano playing minor chords? Those are on a lot, too, and the Tisei campaign has an ad that immediately starts off with quotes pulled from local newspapers.

“This is a very typical type of advertising that we’ve seen in politics,” said Berkovitz. “Ripped from the headlines, erie music, sort of slasher movie visuals, so this is very standard fare.”

Basically what a candidate does is take headlines or clips from a newspaper story that’s negative about his or her opponent and splashes them onto the screen. But in the middle of this Tisei ad, the tone takes a complete 180.

And at the end, all of a sudden you get ‘candidate sunshine’ who is the alternative to all the horrible things you’ve just been seeing,” Berkovitz said. “These types of ads can have some impact because what you’re trying to do is use the credibility of a newspaper story or headline to reinforce your message. But the voter is very used to these.”

One voter at the food court in the Burlington Mall is more than used to these.

It is very distracting. It’s almost a pre-requisite that you attack your opponent initially before you even allow them to state any opinions on the issues. And it will put almost any candidate in a defensive mode. It polarizes the two parties. And the real issues that people need deal with are unfortunately aren’t addressed. It’s more trying to outpace one another with negative campaigning,” he said.

Tisei’s campaign made waves last week with the “Good Harbor” ad which featured, well, waves-- from Gloucester’s Good Harbor Beach. It was a quiet departure from the noise that both campaigns have been cranking out during this race.

The Good Harbor ad clearly shows that Tisei thinks he’s going to win,” Tobe Berkovitz said. “You do not use valuable resources in the last weekend of a campaign to put a feel-good pretty picture advertisement up on the screen.”

This is what’s called a “closer ad”, and Berkovitz says the Tisei campaign must be feeling very confident.

And to do it with that type of different style, very pleasant, sort of an easy listening, easy watching ad, really says that Tisei is very confident,” said Berkovitz. “And he has enough of the vote, according to his polling that he can really go against the grain. And this also counters that horrible Tea Party image that the democrats and Tierney have tried to paint him.”

But we’re all too smart to fall for any of this stuff. We see what each party is trying to do. It’s painfully obvious, and no viewer or voter is going to fall for it…or are we?

No TV viewer ever says an ad has ever had an effect on them. That’s the nature of human beings,” Berkovitz said. “But the campaigns have to keep pumping their message out there and they have to keep hoping that somehow they find lightning in a bottle and this all of a sudden might work.”

In these final hours, as Tierney and Tisei forge ahead on the campaign trail and voters bear the wages of their campaign warfare, one thing is for certain-- the mute button on your remote control is sure to get good workout.