Tips from the Trail

Going Negative & Using Ads

Be present in your commercial.

It is important for voters to hear your stance on issues and what you will do, not only the negative attack on your opponent. As one woman said in a focus group, “What if this is the only ad I see? Every ad should give me some information about the candidate.” Contrary to conventional wisdom, it works for a woman candidate to represent herself in an ad, confidently speaking for herself and her positions.

Be sure to come across as confident and warm.

In a campaign, it is important to reinforce and protect that you are likeable and qualified, even when delivering the negative. We found that women can preserve voters’ perceptions of these traits. Voters want some reassurance that you aren’t a typical politician.

Use the disclaimer as an opportunity.

You can use the disclaimer as a chance to tell voters what you will do for them. For example, “I approve this ad, because I’ll always protect Medicare.” Voters pay attention to the disclaimer more than people realize.

Be simple and concise.

Do not use overly busy, distracting images or music in commercials. Voters want to be able to leave an ad understanding where you stand on issues.

Be genuine.

Voters want authentic facial expressions, images, and settings that are appropriate for the topic being discussed. Voters, especially women, pay close attention to how women candidates come across, even in the disclaimer at the beginning or end of an ad.

Use real people

Use real people to deliver a negative ad by sharing their personal stories.

Use a fresh or unexpected approach

Use a fresh or unexpected approach such as humor, without diminishing your credibility. Voters are more inclined to view and listen to a candidate’s message if delivered in this frame. Humor works for women, but it is also important to pivot to the serious side. In effective humorous ads, women are often the serious person in the funny situation—not presented out of the role of candidate or in the comic situation themselves.

Call out a negative ad from an opponent.

Women candidates are particularly effective when appearing in a response, contrast, or counter-attack ad.

Cite sources

Cite sources and provide links for voters to follow up when looking for more information about you and your platform. Voters like being able to look at the facts and your plan.

Be sure.

Unless you are certain that your opponent seriously or habitually violates ethical, financial, or legal rules, do not be the first to raise the issue. Before you or your campaign make an accusation against an opponent, review your research to ensure that neither you nor anyone associated with you or the campaign have done the same thing.

Be quick.

Everyone makes mistakes. By quickly taking responsibility and moving on, you have a better chance of limiting the story to one news cycle. Also, call in a third-party validator when responding.

Be consistent.

If attacks linger, be consistent about your response. Share facts and talking points with supporters that mirror your messages. Be sure these third-party validators use your messages and know how to pivot to vouch for your qualifications, and not focus on the character attack from your opponent.