It’s only April, but it looks and sounds like October. More than $80 million has been spent on political advertising in only about a dozen Senate battleground states.
About half that amount is targeted at women.
Many ads aimed at women take the most obvious approach: Republicans putting their female candidates front and center; Democrats attacking Republicans for waging a war on women.
But there’s more to it than that, says Republican ad-maker Ashley O’Connor.
“Women process information differently than men,” O’Connor says. “So much of political advertising focuses on conflict, and facts and figures, and I think that we’re already starting to see, when reaching women voters, there’s just new techniques need to be used, and a different tone, and more storytelling.”
O’Connor singles out an ad aired by Monica Wehby, a pediatric neurosurgeon seeking the Republican nomination for Senate in Oregon. In the ad, a woman tells the story of Webby operating on her daughter.
“Dr. Wehby was going to open her back and reconstruct my daughter’s entire lower spine,” the woman says. “She just hugged me and kissed my forehead, and she said, ‘It’s going to be OK, sweetheart. I’ve got her, and I am going to see you in a couple of hours.’ ”
“This is a 60-second ad and it’s not particularly issue-driven,” O’Connor says of the spot. “It sort of goes to this point that when talking to women, I don’t think you necessarily have to be delivering factual information to move them. I think connecting with their heart and really trying to build emotion is more effective.”
That may sound a little sexist, but appealing to emotions is what all effective advertising does. And the fact that Republicans are trying to do it is the biggest new development in political ads aimed at women.
Aiming For Tough, But Not Harsh
In a typical Republican superPAC ad from 2012, for instance, a man intones a list of Democrats’ alleged failings over a soundtrack of ominous music: “Family incomes down, 40 percent living paycheck to paycheck, and Obamacare’s new tax on middle-class families.”
This year, the GOP has ditched the baritone narrator, the scary music and the facts and figures. Instead, the party is doing what Democrats have been doing for many years: using softer voices and more personal stories.
A Republican superPAC ad running this year features a woman who narrates in a conversational tone: “People don’t like political ads. I don’t like them either. But health care isn’t about politics. It’s about people. It’s not about a website that doesn’t work … It’s about people, and millions of people have lost their health insurance. … Obamacare doesn’t work.”
Elizabeth Wilner, senior vice president with Kantar Media, praises the ad.
“It’s a very clean ad,” Wilner says. “The tone of the ad, her tone, is very sympathetic and very easy on the ears. It’s a new kind of attack ad, and it is not a harsh ad in any way, but the message itself is very tough.”