Political consultants are used to hearing – and ignoring – clients (and their friends and family) say: “People here don’t like negative ads. They don’t work.”
But now there may be something to that argument in the Triangle media market. Exhibit A: The failure of the Republican attack strategy against Robin Hudson. Exhibit B: Clay Aiken’s victory in the 2nd District primary.
Now, I wouldn’t go so far as to argue that negative ads don’t work. They do – or they can. But there is something going on here that political strategists better acknowledge, understand and use. Or pay a high price.
We are now probably the most sophisticated consumers of political advertising in America. Since 2008, we have seen more ads than anybody anywhere. And now the Triangle – and especially Wake County – is perhaps THE most important political battleground in the nation. So we’ll see more this year.
We’re especially sophisticated when it comes to evaluating negative ads. We’re skeptical when an ad claims that a judge “sided with child molesters.” That didn’t pass the smell test.
In Clay Aiken’s case, Keith Crisco’s negative ad may have hurt Aiken AND hurt Crisco AND helped Toni Morris.
This fall, strategists must recalculate their negative ads. The old formula of dark music, doctored photos, ominous music and outlandish claims not only may flop, it may create a backlash.