Obama Ads: ‘Speed and Ferocity’ on Tap

Sep 12, 2008  •  Post A Comment

Look out below. John McCain’s success at increasing his poll numbers and controlling the presidential campaign’s agenda after the GOP convention appears to bode a far more negative tone in TV political ads in the campaign’s final two months.
The change was already becoming apparent late last week as Sen. Barack Obama’s campaign broke away from its usual hope message to deliver some of its strongest attack ads yet. Campaign manager David Plouffe delivered a warning about what might be coming.
“In recent weeks, John McCain has shown that he is willing to go into the gutter to win this election. His campaign has become nothing but a series of smears, lies, and cynical attempts to distract from the issues that matter to the American people,” Mr. Plouffe said in a campaign memo on Sept. 12. “But as Barack Obama said earlier this week, ‘Enough is enough.’”
“We will respond with speed and ferocity to John McCain’s attacks and we will take the fight to him, but we will do it on the big issues that matter to the American people. We will not allow John McCain and his band of Karl Rove disciples to make this big election about small things.”
The Obama campaign then released two ads, with one starting, “1982. John McCain goes to Washington. Things have changed in the last 26 years. But McCain hasn’t.”
The latest Obama ads represented a dramatic change from Obama’s previous mostly policy-oriented or biographical ads. They followed the McCain campaign’s release of several ads last week questioning Mr. Obama’s character. One, a Web ad, suggested Mr. Obama’s use of the “lipstick on a pig” colloquialism was sexist.
On Friday the McCain campaign released a new ad suggesting Mr. Obama was “disrespectful” to McCain VP running mate Sarah Palin.
“He was the world’s biggest celebrity, but his star’s fading. So they lashed out at Sarah Palin. Dismissed her as ‘good looking,’” said the ad. “That backfired, so they said she was doing, ‘what she was told.’ … Then desperately called Sarah Palin a liar. How disrespectful.”
The McCain campaign did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the Obama ad changes or the Plouffe memo.
Democrats for weeks have been urging the Obama campaign to be more confrontational.
“I think they will have to get more aggressive,” said Bill Carrick of Morris & Carrick advertising in Los Angeles, and a veteran Democratic ad executive.
He said the Obama campaign had to start responding in ways that drive the message back to its issues.
“The McCain campaign every day is going to throw 100 marbles in front of Obama to see what trips him up. They can’t run on the record of Republican rule. They just want to make it a personality contest.”
Ted Devine, another Democratic consultant, also had called for tougher Obama TV ads, but suggested that a tonal switch would be coming anyway as part of the natural evolution of the campaign.
“There are going to be a lot of punches thrown on both sides,” he said.
Mr. Devine cautioned that while McCain’s poll numbers are up after the GOP convention, the long-term effect of that event, and subsequent strident McCain ads, has yet to be determined.
Brent McGoldrick, VP at communications consultancy FD, said a tracking poll conducted by the firm for Hotline and Diageo seemed to indicate strength for Mr. McCain and problems for Mr. Obama. He suggested the numbers indicate women and independent voters are moving towards Mr. McCain.
“Obama has been put in a box. He is a brand of change and a different kind of discourse, but he also has to respond to the attacks,” Mr. McGoldrick said.

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