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The Student Voice of Forest Hills Central

The Central Trend

The Student Voice of Forest Hills Central

The Central Trend

The Student Voice of Forest Hills Central

The Central Trend

Are political ads actually convincing?

Tara Jacoby (Vox)
Political ads and campaigns are using social media to resonate most with their intended demographic.

I find politics interesting. Not interesting in a good way or a bad way, but interesting nonetheless.

I’m not sure if this applies to most people my age, but every time the elections come around, I find myself researching and keeping up with all of the candidates and the changes. Particularly with the midterm elections, I often find myself knowing more than even my parents about some of the candidates, and a large part of this is because of political ads.

At some point in time, YouTube and every other streaming and social media service decided I was the demographic for political campaign advertisements, and over the course of the 2022 midterms, I could recite many of them by heart. Every single commercial break or website popup would be the same font, loudly denouncing a candidate or claiming they were going to save Michigan, and it made me wonder if political ads actually convince people of anything.

Of course, I’m not the intended audience for political campaigns because I can’t vote, but I think one of the most important things about political ads and their effectiveness is which demographic they intend to sell to. With an increase in technology and social media marketing over the past decade, political demographics have shifted. Whereas before, it was based on age or a TV network the company believes is mostly liked by a particular party; it has now changed to more personal-based marketing.

Just one example of this is Facebook and Instagram. Both of these platforms take friends, posts, favorite sports teams, and even music taste into consideration to be analyzed by a marketing team that then puts out an advertisement, either negative or positive, that is meant to specifically reach out and connect with the beliefs that will most likely resonate with the viewer. In a study done by CNN analyzing how political candidates reach viewers, they found that people who follow Taylor Swift are more likely to receive democratic party advertisements, and those who like Chick-fil-A are more likely to receive conservative party advertisements (CNN Political Candidates).

In a study done by CNN analyzing how political candidates reach viewers, they found that people who follow Taylor Swift are more likely to receive democratic party advertisements, and those who like Chick-fil-A are more likely to receive conservative party advertisements.

Not considering demographics, however, the efficacy of political ads is the main question. Most political ads I see are negative, and it makes sense; people are more likely to listen to drama and scandals than a person listing off how great they are and why they deserve votes. For example, take one of the many negative ads from the 2022 midterms about Tudor Dixon, the former candidate for governor who was backed by Donald Trump and claimed that he was the rightful winner of the 2020 election. Her campaign slogan was “Bring Back Michigan,” similar to the Trump slogan, “Make America Great Again,” and the negative ads against her were based around her stark pro-life stance that became the crux of her campaign. 

The ads were in the typical style with a black background, bold, red text, and a deep voice dramatically stating her wrong-doings and why she wasn’t qualified. In the back, black and white clips of many of her virtual and in-person interviews were played, and the overall message was not to trust her because of her supposedly shifting and noncommittal views. Another similar example to this is Joe Biden’s most recent ad for the 2024 presidential election, which calls out Trump as inadequate for a second term whilst also bringing attention to his own accomplishments, such as climate change laws, and further centering his campaign around the Roe v. Wade case and abortion rights.

Both of these ads are targeted toward the same demographic of people: pro-choice young adults who are upset with former leadership. Although they’re intended for the same group, they’re used in very different ways. The anti-Dixon campaign is fully intended to focus on her weaknesses and present her as an unstable and unfit candidate. It does nothing to promote Gretchen Whitmer, her opposition in the gubernatorial election. Ads like this are intended to reach moderate voters who may not believe or support Whitmer, but the ad presents a point of view that casts the choice upon the viewer of choosing the lesser of two evils. Bringing down Dixon uplifts Whitmer without even stating her name.

The Biden ad, however, takes a different approach toward the same group. It simultaneously slanders Trump’s former statements and failures while showcasing Biden’s successes and future plans. These ads are targeted toward those who dislike Trump. Not exclusively liberals, necessarily, but also conservatives who no longer support Trump and are in a conflicted position of supporting their party’s beliefs or, again, the lesser of two evils.

Both ads’ efficacy is truly dependent on how the viewers’ beliefs and opinions align before seeing the ad. Overall, I would argue that the negative Dixon ad was more effective simply because gubernatorial and presidential elections are on such different scales. Viewers often go in blind to gubernatorial elections if they don’t keep up with the news, and a negative ad is more likely to sway a voter’s opinion on what most see as a less important election. But in the presidential election, it’s almost impossible not to have heard of the candidates before, and it is in many ways deceiving to the viewer to list only the failures of one candidate and only the successes of another. While this may convince viewers to do more research on the subject, most will just discount it completely because it comes from a more biased source.

I believe that political ads are most effective when directed toward moderate or uneducated viewers who are more easily swayed. No matter how great the ad, no radical liberal or conservative is going to have their opinion changed by an ad, but moderates who can lean either way should be the focus of the efforts. 

I think the other factor that makes a political ad memorable and convincing is focusing on one topic. When they contrast negative remarks with immediate positive ones, it seems deceiving and unfair to list only the weaknesses of one and the strengths of another. If the campaign focuses exclusively on one candidate and either their positives or negatives, it’s more likely to convince someone of what the advertisement is saying because it doesn’t bombard the viewer with as much information and contrast.

As the presidential elections approach quickly, I hope to see more truly convincing and well-thought-out campaigns that aren’t just the same old annoying breaks on television.

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About the Contributor
Addie Woltil
Addie Woltil, Copy Editor
Addie Woltil is a sophomore entering her second year writing for The Central Trend. She is excited about another year of writing on staff and more to come. In her free time, she enjoys hanging out with friends, going to the mall, and watching overrated reality TV shows. She loves ending her day in room 139 and can't wait for what's next. Favorite fruit: Mango Favorite TV show: How I Met Your Mother Favorite day of the year: July 24th

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    Tanja SwansonApr 30, 2024 at 2:26 pm

    You would be a great campaign manager. Your views are so thoughtful and well researched!

  • T

    Tina WoltilApr 30, 2024 at 8:53 am

    Very well considered and researched! Your words are making me think about my reactions to political ads.