Column: Candidates’ TV ads are more humorous than persuasive

Published 12:00 am Saturday, September 21, 2002

Political advertising is a funny thing. Candidates spend millions and millions of dollars to get their &uot;message&uot; out, hoping it will persuade people to vote for them &045; or, in some cases, against the other guy.

Yet after three months of seeing the same political garbage &045; scare tactics, blaming, exaggerating &045; the average person probably doesn’t care for either of the candidates in a particular race.

A certain portion of the population is automatically for one of the guys &045; Wellstone, for instance &045; and another portion is not going to budge from the other guy, say, Coleman. Are the rest of us &045; the fence-sitters, dissidents or non-voters &045; really going to be persuaded by these advertising efforts? I doubt it. I think these candidates and their cash-laden sponsors are wasting their money with these laughable ads.

Email newsletter signup

Political ads on TV have already been going in full force for months, especially in the Coleman vs. Wellstone featured bout. Here are a few observations of mine from some of the most ridiculous ads I’ve seen so far:

Ad for: Greg Ganske, who’s running against Iowa senator Tom Harkin.

Ad says: &uot;Did you know Tom Harkin voted to tax Social Security? Did you know he voted to keep the death tax? Did you know he voted to strip senior citizens naked and leave them freezing in an alley with nothing but a loaf of bread to live on for a long, cold Iowa winter?&uot; And stuff like that. At the end of the ad, an interviewer says to a baby, &uot;Does Tom Harkin’s record scare you, young man?&uot; And the baby, of course, cries in fear.

Reaction: You’ve got to be kidding me. Tom Harkin scares babies? I’ve seen lots of attempts to demonize the &uot;other guy,&uot; but scaring babies? Are we really supposed to believe Harkin is the scourge of infants everywhere?

Ad for: Norm Coleman.

Ad says: Paul Wellstone A) voted to increase taxes billions of times, and B) broke his promise about serving only two terms. Those two accusations are, if at all, only marginally related, so it seems odd they’re in the same commercial. But Coleman’s guys are throwing everything including the kitchen sink at old Paul. At the end of the spot, the narrator says something like, &uot;Call Paul Wellstone. Tell him it’s wrong to raise taxes and even worse to break your promises.&uot;

Reaction: Do they really want people to call Wellstone? Imagine Paul Wellstone’s office answering calls from voters who saw that ad and decided to call and say &uot;Tell your boss it’s wrong to raise taxes and even worse to break his promises!&uot; They wouldn’t take it too seriously. Can we be honest here? They want us to vote for Norm, not call Paul. Calling Paul does not help Norm get elected, and that’s obviously what Normie wants.

Ad for: Some Iowa U.S. House candidate, I forget who.

Ad says: Iowa’s Medicare reiumbursement rate is last in the nation. That’s bad. &uot;Iowa should never be last in line,&uot; the candidate says.

Reaction: Why not? Somebody has to be at the bottom. The South can’t be last in everything, right?

Thinking about all these political ads, it makes me wonder what the people who write these things do when it isn’t campaign season. They must work on accounts for other advertisers. What would ads for other products be like if they applied the rules of political advertising to those campaigns?

Maybe like this:

Ad for: Cheerios, a General Mills cereal.

Ad says: &uot;Did you know Kellogg’s Frosted Flakes caused a 12-year-old Minnesotan to choke momentarily? Kellogg’s won’t tell you that. Did you know nine-year-old Butch Jones cried when his box of Frosted Flakes didn’t include the Wrestling Action Cards advertised on the box? Why won’t Kellogg’s Frosted Flakes keep their promises? If you buy Cheerios, we’ll keep our promises.&uot;

Of course, the ad would be feature grainy, slow-motion footage of Tony the Tiger, with &uot;Tony: Can We Really Trust Him?&uot; in red letters across the bottom of the screen.

Reaction: I suppose Tony frightens babies, too.

Dylan Belden is the Tribune’s managing editor. His column appears Sundays. E-mail him at