October 24, 2002

Sugar coating the negativity…

Are political media consultants putting a softer spin on the mean season? A recent university study claims that negative campaign advertising is back following a brief lull after 9/11. Lizette Alvarev quotes two media consultants who claim the tone of negativity is changing. One of them says:

“There is one big difference,” Steve Murphy, a media consultant for Murphy Putnam Media who represents Democrats, said. “Harsh negatives are not working. Harsh, vitriolic, dripping with sarcasm, that’s not working. And if you want to draw a contrast on an issue, or present negative information, you better do it factually and with a tone that is not offensive to the viewer.”

I’d like to know how he knows such ads are not working, but the NYT doesn’t say. The article claims that media consultants “have grown a little wiser about how to frame negative attacks to make them more palatable.” Among the specific changes: More ads use feminine voices to sound less strident, and more ads use legitimacy markers such as actual headlines or the candidates own voices.

The one shred of politically useful information in this thin article is the short enumeration of the tactics some consultants are employing. Anything else is mere conjecture and assertion based on limited opinion. Alvarez would have served her readers better by further exploring the university study.

Negative ads are not going away because negative ads work. Obviously, media consultants will make subtle changes in their presentation based on their own evaluation of what works in a specific situation. I’d like to see a reporter explore this process more fully. (via Political Wire)

UPDATE (10:20 a.m.): Many newspapers are running campaign ad features such as this one from the NYT.

UPDATE (10:49 a.m.): This Washington Times article looks at the effect the Democrats’ Social Security ads are having on key Senate races.

UPDATE (5:20 p.m.): FOX/AP.

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