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Two Classic Election Ad Mistakes

I hate politician advertising! I turn off the radio, change the channel, or flip the page.

It isn’t so much the politicians and the political process that bothers me. I love a good political debate and discourse. It’s the horrible advertising that drives me crazy.

Most political ads make the same classic mistake – they make claims without evidence to back them up.

Sometimes they do it because they can’t back up their claims with facts. Sometimes they do it because they don’t give themselves enough time in their ad because they are being too clever. Sometimes they think the evidence is obvious enough to not need to be included.

To Tell the Truth
We currently have a hotly contested US Congress Race and one candidate parades out a whole bunch of seniors telling the other candidate not to mess with their Social Security and Medicaid. One after another we hear old people chiding the other candidate saying he will ruin their benefits. But not one of them tells us what he did, said or proposed that will ruin their benefits. No evidence means no credibility. I’m not buying it. (In fact, the truth of the two candidates’ actions is that the one being chided has done more to protect SS & Medicaid than the one running the ad, which makes the first candidate either completely ignorant or a bald-faced liar – neither of which I want representing me in Congress).

Tell Me Why
Another ad in a state race included a candidate telling me all about his endorsements. Endorsements are apparently great, yet I see many candidates win without them. Those endorsements would mean a lot more to me if I knew why he got them.

Did he give favors?
Did he promote one of their projects?
Did they give him the endorsement in exchange for publicity?
Are they backing him because he’s a surefire winner and they want to curry favor?

I could surmise all of those reasons for the endorsement, none of which are positive, because he never gave me evidence to tell me why these endorsements make him the better candidate.

Would you like your audience to make up their own (probably false) conclusions about a claim you make?

Give Us Reason to Believe
If you make a claim in your ads such as “We’re the best (insert claim here)…” back it up with evidence. Your ad becomes more credible and your claim more believable when you tell me why. If you don’t have time, don’t make the claim. A claim no one believes will make people doubt everything else you say.

Down and Dirty
The second mistake most politicians make is the dirty, negative attack ads. You can’t play in the mud with getting dirt on yourself. Sure, the mud-slinging might win you a few votes now, but the stink stays with you and ruins your credibility long term.

Politicians might not care. But independent retailers can’t afford to have 45% of the population hating their guts and everyone else feeling kinda uneasy about them, too. If you’re going to mention your competitors, keep it to the facts. Point out what they do, then tell everyone why what you do is better – and back it up with evidence.

A Winning Formula
Be honest, be ethical, be positive. Back up all your claims with evidence. Do those two things and the credibility and effectiveness of your ads will make you a winner this fall.


PS To make your ads more believable, I highly recommend the book Currencies That Buy Credibility by Tom Wanek (no, this is not an affiliate link – I make no money promoting this book, I just like it. A lot.)


  1. MarkACarbone says:

    My firm had the pleasure of working for Dan Webster who just won US Congress, Florida, 8th District seat against Alan Grayson. Grayson ran some of the most negative ads in the country and we chose to run ZERO negative ads back and won. We managed the social media strategy and execution for the campaign


    Every time Grayson ran a negative ad, our donations went up within hours. Why did we succeed, because we ran no ad to rebut the negative attacks.

    CASE STUDY AD: "Taliban Dan"


    Grayson ran an ad comparing Dan Webster to the Taliban. That was the beginning of the end. The ad was so over the top and dishonest that Anderson Cooper from CNN, Fox, ABC… all picked it up and investigated the ad. Within 72 hours of the ad hitting the talk shows, we raised hundreds of thousands of dollars.

    Our Reaction to attack ad:

    We chose not to attack back. The mainstream media disected it and objectively picked it apart and it worked to our favor. We did not know they were going to do this and were not going to attack back, just state the truth.

    Our Continued Approach To Election Day:

    We never responded to attack ad and we did the unthinkable, we refused to debate with Grayson. He is a grandstander and had two debates with press coverage and we did not show up to either on the premise that he had no dignity and dishonored the dignity and respect of debating. We felt he would say anything and do anything.

    This was not received well, not debating. The local press said negative things about our campaign, that we were weak and scared.

    We still won in a landslide.


    Everyone said they were sick of the negative attacks and we chose to stay the high road and it worked. I have never worked for someone more dignified and honorable. Behind the scenes Congressman Webster never spoke poorly of Grayson either. He was humble and he taught all of us working for him who at times begged him to clobber Grayson. He never folded and taught us bigger lessons – first, that public office is not the end game. It is just that, public office and he would not jepordize his beliefs and values to win an election.

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