Just in time for Halloween, 2012′s candidates are trying to frighten voters with scary attack ads. Campaigns spend big money on 30-second TV spots, but I managed to achieve similar results with just a pile of dirt and a few hours at the beach– thanks to these industry-best practices:
1. Your opponent’s words– even if they aren’t actually damaging. Pres. Obama spoke about slowing tides, so I included, literally, a rising tide. It implies a broken promise, and implications are good enough.
2. Children. Just so everyone knows what’s at stake. Of course, no use of children in politics will ever top Pres. Johnson’s 1964 “Daisy” ad’s simple message: “Vote for Johnson, or your children will die in nuclear hellfire.”
3. An ominous soundtrack. Musical creativity is unnecessary. Politics is an industry, and there are services that let buyers choose from titles like “political attack #1″ (for when your opponent is an incumbent with a bad record) and “political attack ad #10 (to cast your opponent as goofy or incompetent). Not wanting to let my two semesters of music theory and composition at Princeton go to waste, however, I adapted the theme of a Super Nintendo villain to fit my needs. If it seems overdramatic, it’s probably just right.
4. Black and white imagery. There are 3 contexts in which B&W still excels: infomercials showing actors fumbling with a competitor’s unwieldy product, political ads showing a bad guy, and film noir. Even when making an attack ad attacking attack ads, the combination of B&W and a deep voiced narrator is a winner.
5. An ominous, yet catchy conclusion. “A house divided is a house of sand, and a house divided cannot stand.” You don’t have to be Dr. King to make your closing words echo in listeners’ minds– Dr. Seuss will do. Regardless of their content, rhymes definitely lend truthiness to their message. E.g.
“A disgrace to the human race.”
“In your guts, you know he’s nuts.”
“If the glove doesn’t fit, you must acquit.”
As a rule of thumb, the more fun it is to say, the better it will play.
N.B. “A House of Sand” differs from prototypical attack ads in one important way: rather than attack any particular person or cause, it criticizes polarization and political gridlock in the abstract. I do this this because
1. These are genuine problems that should concern all Americans, and
2. I am not so skilled a sand sculptor that I can carve recognizable individuals, and
3. Real political advertisers don’t work for free.