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Advice to GOP Candidates: Avoid Adjectives, Nouns Are Good Enough

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of

Attention GOP candidates: There is no need, this year, to load up negative ads with adjectives painting your opponents as evil big spenders in the thrall of the Washington establishment. The simple facts of your opponents' voting records are enough to defeat them. Just the facts, ma'am.


Republican negative ad writers always delight in describing the stimulus package as bloated, wasteful, government-growing and useless. The adjectives get in the way. The polling we've done indicates that the simple words "stimulus package" convey all that and more.

There is no need to call Barack Obama's health care legislation "a government attempt to take over our health care" or a bill to "slash medical care for the elderly" or an "attempt to force rationing of care." The simple word Obamacare conveys the same meanings.

Why describe cap and trade as "job killing" or "driving jobs overseas" when the words cap and trade say these same things to voters?

Ads are effective for the response they elicit from the viewers. The more they catalyze a response inside the mind of the voter, the more effective they are. Ads that are heavy on adjectives and have the look and feel of an attack ad run into credibility problems with the average voter. One rebels against a heavy-handed attack, and you find yourself fighting against the ad, even if you basically believe it to be true. The more even-handed and credible the ad is, the more it will be believed.

It is the beauty of the 2010 election year that ads that are prosaic, simple, straightforward and factual will do much better than those that are loaded up with negative adjectives and blood-dripping depictions of big-spenders who believe in big government.


A simple ad along these lines will be far more effective for a Republican challenger to a Democratic incumbent than any elaborately conceived negative commercial:

"Do you support the $850 billion stimulus package Obama passed last year? Joe Democrat voted yes. Harry Republican says no.

"The TARP bailout? Democrat voted in favor. Republican is opposed.

"Obamacare? Joe Democrat supported it. Harry Republican would have voted no.

"Cap and trade? Democrat yes, again. Republican, no.

"Vote for the one that agrees with you."

If you have to run a disclaimer featuring the candidate, just end the ad up with: "I'm Harry Republican, and I approve of this ad to bring you the facts. Just the facts."

The whole idea is to make the ad totally credible -- an ad where your opponent should be willing to pay for half of it. Like an ad sponsored by the League of American Voters or some such group.

This approach may rob your media advisor of his creativity and give your staff less satisfaction than a blood-drenched negative, but it will work far better.

Tony Schwartz, my mentor, once told me that he would read me two identical ads that would elicit totally different reactions:


Ad One: "You can read the truth about the pornography industry in a three-part series in The New York Times."

Ad Two: "You can read the truth about the pornography industry in a three-part series in the National Enquirer."

Of course, these are totally different ads, but the difference is in the mind of the listener. The impartial, just-the-facts approach to negative advertising passes the internal screens voters have on ad credibility and does its work inside the voters' mind. And the adjectives they would use to describe Obama's programs to themselves are far, far more devastating than the ones your ad person can conceive.

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