Political ad consultants: talking out of their ...

There's a brief overview of the challenges facing political advertising in the latest Atlantic, and Joshua Green highlights some valid comments about the level of creativity and effort put into producing truly effective advertising.

On a giant-screen television [Republican media consultant John]Brabender first played "Waste," which he created for Rick Santorum's successful 1994 challenge to Senator Harris Wofford, of Pennsylvania. It opens with a hand daintily snipping a sliver of paper with red kiddie scissors. "This is how serious Harris Wofford is about cutting government waste," begins a gentle voice, over the lilt of chamber music.

Cut to another pair of hands as a chain saw tears through an enormous stack of paper. The voice becomes a bellow fit for a monster-truck-show announcer: "And this is how serious Rick Santorum is! In the last term of Congress he introduced more original bills cutting government waste than anyone else! Join the fight!"—a boxing glove smashes through the screen—"Santorum for Senate!" Memorable and funny, the whole ad lasts just fifteen seconds ...

Design by committee, Brabender says, stifles creativity and produces lousy ads. Less is often more in a visual medium like television, but many pollsters and campaign managers seem blind to that: they try to cram as many issues into an ad as they can. If someone throws five tennis balls at you, he points out, it's tough to catch any of them. But with a single ball it's easy.

And, depending upon the candidate's standing in the race, a consultant can choose to use a tennis ball or a wrecking ball - with a relative attention to detail. Take a look at a clip Brabender's firm prepared for a Pennsylvania gubernatorial candidate. A little over the top, wouldn't you say? Looks like the polls say elderly voters could be driven to their candidate through panic about possible tax increases.