Romney commercial shows campaign ads don’t have to be nasty

In my Sunday column, I noted that the television advertising from both presidential candidates and their supporters has been dominated by negative messages -- because research has shown that negative ads have a bigger impact on voters than positive ads.

A team of researchers at Vanderbilt University found one ad was particularly effective, in part because it was so memorable: an Obama campaign’s commercial that used Mitt Romney’s off-key rendition of “America the Beautiful” as the soundtrack for a negative message about Romney’s business career.

But Republicans have gotten nasty too. This ad, from the independent GOP group called American Crossroads, ruthlessly edits Obama’s careless statement that entrepreneurs didn’t build their businesses alone, but takes a bit of the sting away with visual humor.

Here’s Obama’s rebuttal:

A negative ad doesn’t have to be mean to be effective, though. This ad may be the most effective Republican commercial on the air right now, in part because its charges aren’t over-the-top -- but mostly because of its pointed punchline: “It’s okay to make a change.”

Are there any positive ads out there? Yes -- but only a few. Here’s a commercial the Romney campaign ran for a while, before the slanging match over Bain Capital and “You didn’t build that” took over:


And here’s an upbeat new ad the Obama campaign has unveiled for a national television buy during the Olympics:

But Vanderbilt’s John G. Geer has bad news for high-minded voters who wish all political advertising could be as positive as that: Voters don’t remember most positive ads as long as they remember most negative ads. And they don’t consider them any more credible, either. To most voters, a politician promising that he’ll fix the economy or improve the schools is often less believable than a politician charging that his opponent is a skunk.


McManus: In politics, accentuate the negative

McManus: Campaign ads -- an American art form

McManus: Best and worst political ads from the presidential election season