It’s an uphill climb to create an effective political ad these days. In the streaming age, no viewer is fond of advertising and they’re particularly averse to the political variety.
How do we know? At Ace Metrix, we gauge the creative impact of all national ads, based on 500 respondents per ad and a sample of national registered voters balanced by age, gender, and income to the U.S. Census. The data collected provides insights into the effectiveness of the ad, verbatim responses and the likelihood the ad changed the way respondents will vote.
Our standardized questions fall under two areas: the persuasive power of an ad’s content (Persuasion) and the likelihood of repeat viewing (Watchability). For the Persuasion dimension, we look at seven areas including Agreement, Learning, Credibility, Relevance, Seek Info, Attention and Impact – which measures the ad’s influence on the voting decision.
The average Ace Score, which we use to grade the effectiveness of spots, across all commercial nationally advertised brands is 546. For candidates and PACs, the score is 446. PAC ads alone score even lower with an Ace Score of 430.
Yet the Super PACs continue to rake in donations and spend millions on advertising. A running tally by the Center for Responsive Politics shows Super PACs alone have raised more than $753 million and have spent just under half that.
While some Super PAC ads are extraordinarily successful, on average they fall short. The range is high – even within a Super PAC’s lineup, there is large inconsistency in ad effectiveness. So why do most Super PAC ads fail? Here are a few reasons why.
Inside out messaging and assuming people are going to watch.
In a study we conducted in conjunction with Twitter, 50 percent of people who choose to watch an ad drop off after just five seconds. That can be problematic for viewers’ comprehension. Consider “Calculated,” an ad from the pro-Marco Rubio PAC Conservative Solutions. It was an attack on Ted Cruz, where they flipped Cruz’ campaign logo to “Calcula- TED” instead of “Trust-TED.” But it was so confusing (it scored a low 324) that many viewers actually thought it was pro-Cruz.
Inconsistent or unfocused messaging.
In the best brand campaigns, marketers focus on repetition of an effective, but simple message to become memorable to the viewer and persuade them to take action. Many PACs and campaigns do just the opposite. They often air dozens of ads with different messaging, with low frequency. These ads, even if they are good, don’t have the opportunity to build viewer persuasion over time.
Take Our Principles PAC, the anti-Donald Trump group, which has produced a plethora of ads this year. Its ad performance, by our metrics, ranges from very good (555 ad for “Quotes”) to poor (373 for “Democrat”). Most Super PACs do their own ad testing, so they likely knew that their ads had an effectiveness range. But their cause would be better served by placing higher scoring ads more frequently in the media rotation rather than creating more ads.
Trying to attack earned media with paid media.
Paid media attacking Trump’s positions and statements have been largely unpersuasive this cycle. In fact, many ads have downright backfired. When you have a candidate who’s being portrayed as a reckless outsider who isn’t politically correct, and you run an ad accusing him of these traits, this actually validates viewer beliefs and helps the candidate with voters who support him for those very reasons.
Trying to communicate with reason versus emotion.
Our Principles PAC’s TV spot “Quotes” was a brilliantly executed example of how to get attention and connect with viewers emotionally. This ad didn’t try to shove policy opinions down the viewer’s throat. Rather, by highlighting Trump’s own words about women, read by seemingly everyday women, it was able to connect with viewers on an emotional level (a negative one at that).
Granted, not all people agree with the ad, which is the very nature of political advertising. What it did do, however, was convince the viewer to continue watching and as a result, earned the highest Attention Score (715) of this political season. It’s important to remember that people remember what they feel, not just what they saw and heard.
PACs need to recognize that their views may not represent those of the general public and that the way they communicate these views can negate their potential impact. But additional ad testing is one way to help improve the effectiveness of their advertising.
Peter Daboll is the CEO of Ace Metrix, a technology company that measures the impact of video advertising.