Running for office requires a lot. A lot of research. A lot of organization. A lot of planning. And campaigns – especially at the federal level – often even build their own campaign management tools and materials. Sounds like a lot...
Political ads can make or break your campaign. Good or bad, campaign advertising gets you, the candidate, in front of voters, furthering brand awareness and encouraging voters to engage emotionally with you and your candidate platform.
But how do you know if your ad is good? And more importantly, what can you do to make sure it’s good?
This post will help you with both aspects. We’ll define what makes political advertising effective and show you 4 helpful examples of campaign ads from the 2020 election.
We’ll also include a few tips on how to make low-cost campaign videos. Not all candidates have huge production budgets, for a variety of reasons (i.e., ads are for a local campaign or the primaries, both of which require keeping your campaign ad costs down). So if your budget for campaign ads is small, don’t fret!
Let’s start with defining a “good” ad.
What makes an ad good?
According to this basic rubric, an effective ad will do well in four areas:
- Style: Editing, visual, and sound cues tell the audience a clear, compelling story
- Emotion – it’s clear what the ad wants the audience to feel
- Honesty: Verifiable information supports any claims
- Persuasion: Reason and facts convey a clear central position to the audience
Basically, if you want your campaign video to be impactful, combine logic, facts, emotion, and personal stories with excellent visual and audio editing.
Let’s look at 4 examples. For each, you can watch the video of the ad and see how the campaign video stacks up against the rubric above. We’ll also point out what each candidate did well.
Let’s start with one of President Biden’s campaign ads. As a frontrunner in the 2020 election, Biden had a top-tier budget for political ads.
- Style: This campaign video uses black-and-white photos that show Biden being sworn into the US Senate as he stands in a hospital following the death of his first wife and daughter in a car accident. Later, the audience sees photos of him with his now deceased son.
- Emotion: The voiceover provides historical and emotional context to the photos. Biden explains the tragic accident that forever changed his family and talks about what it felt like to be sworn into office during that time.
- Honesty: The stories and photographs are of verifiable events that happened in Joe Biden’s life.
- Persuasion: By telling these deeply personal stories, Biden is demonstrating his relatability and dedication to securing healthcare for Americans. He clearly shows that healthcare is not only an important issue but also a personal one for him. He presents several verifiable facts and uses them to draw logical conclusions about his stance on healthcare.
As another presidential hopeful from 2020, Bernie Sanders’ video was also made with a top-tier production budget. Still, there are several stylistic and strategic elements to his videos that you can learn from at any level of the political spectrum, even if you’re piecing together an ad on your own with an iPhone.
- Style: Bernie Sanders’ approach to campaign ads switches things up a bit: he utilizes sweeping, cinematic shots of cities and crowds. His voiceover comprises sound bites from past speeches. Interspersed among these clips are media clips about his track record. He focuses on professional over personal experiences.
- Emotion: The music, imagery, and sound clips collectively foster feelings of inspiration and hope. Bernie wants viewers to feel like the change they desire is possible.
- Honesty: By using media clips, past speeches, and headlines (with dates), Bernie shows a demonstrable history of him taking progressive action while in office. He highlights decades of consistent ideals and real achievements from a long career.
- Persuasion: The core message of Bernie’s political ad is simple: he is trustworthy and effective. The music and editing feel hopeful, while the story told through media clips helps the audience conclude that he’s aware of what Americans need.
Senate hopeful Charles Booker provides an example of an effective political ad crafted without a large production budget. This ad was for his primary campaign and was likely kept simple to keep primary campaign costs down.
- Style: Booker opts for simple footage (no cinematic shots, no inspirational score). This footage is used to tell a simple, impactful story.
- Emotion: Booker juxtaposes the ideals of his primary opponent, Amy McGrath, and his own ideals. He wants the audience to feel his loyalty and proximity to the community and the issues they face.
- Honesty: The video only contains two sound clips. One clip is of McGrath explaining why she wasn’t engaging with the community during the 2020 protests. The other clip is from a speech Booker gave while standing among the crowded protest.
- Persuasion: The simplicity of the ad contributes to its impact. Booker encourages the audience to feel the difference between him and his opponent.
Though this ad didn’t get the same number of views as others in the list, it’s a great example of how even modest budgets can produce powerful campaign ads.
Another effective example of how a political ad can do a lot with a little is in this example from Sarah Gideon’s run for senate in 2020.
- Style: Gideon’s ad uses a simple score, one that’s maybe even a public domain song, and plays it with footage of people discussing pre-existing medical conditions. She finishes with a statement about her commitment to protecting access to healthcare.
- Emotion: Though the music is upbeat and hopeful, the ad does try to evoke some fear. Gideon wants you to empathize with the risks faced by the people in the video and the community members that they represent.
- Honesty: The main statistic in the video is that 230,000 people in her state have pre-existing conditions.
- Persuasion: Gideon’s campaign ad uses statistics to add scale and scope to the featured personal stories. She wants the audience to conclude that healthcare is a vital need so that they feel hopeful and inspired when she promises to fight for their access to healthcare.
What to do if you have a small budget
If you’re running for state or local government, you might not be working with the same budgets as congressional or presidential candidates. It’s also always advisable to keep your primary expenses down. These types of considerations can make the idea of creating your own campaign videos seem out of reach – but it’s not!
You can do a ton of different (and effective) things without using a political consulting firm for your ads. To start, most phones have decent cameras and microphones built right in these days. You can also look online to find animation and video editing software built for beginners.
Hiring a freelance editor from places like Fiverr may also help provide you with a polished ad without straining your campaign budget. As candidates like Booker and Gideon have shown, you can do a lot with a little. Be creative and have fun!
What will your campaign ads focus on?
Now that you’ve seen 4 helpful examples of campaign ads from 2020, you’re ready to start thinking about your own ads. Here are a few questions to ask yourself:
- What issues will you highlight in each video?
- What emotions will you target?
- How will you use sound and video footage to tell a story about your campaign?
- How can you do so in a way that stands out from other political ads?
Keep these questions and examples top of mind as you develop your campaign advertising. Whatever your campaign ad budget, you’re now armed with information that puts you well on your way to building a set of campaign ads that move your voters closer to your vision.