Every 30 seconds, a new political ad is born. I am exaggerating that number, but not by much: Since January 1, the candidates and their supporters have aired more than 210,000 television commercials, spending $156 million. With each election cycle, we’ve come to expect the influx of political ads that begin with hopeful vision statements that ultimately turn into comical, mudslinging fights between individuals vying to hold the most prestigious job in the country.
Voters anticipate this groveling, and understand that decorum goes out the window when Election Day draws near. However, I am continually baffled by the lack of quality control in political ads. Blunders during debates are expected. Talk trash about your opponent’s family? Low but excusable. But missteps in very calculated, highly-edited mediums like television ads just seem mindless and downright unacceptable, especially when so many of these blunders happen time and time again. On this Super Tuesday, here are five quality control measures I’d love to see campaigns implement:
A recent Ted Cruz commercial was pulled when viewers identified an actress in the ad had previously starred in adult films. A background check would have revealed the actresses’ past work didn’t align with the conservative Christian values espoused by Cruz.
You’d think American Apparel’s Challenger Instagram screw-up would teach organizations a lesson in not letting the intern manage the social channels of multi-million dollar groups. Donald Trump took a different lesson away from that crisis. Trump, not once but twice, blamed social media slip-ups on an intern. Nazi soldiers were featured in a Twitter ad in July and a demeaning tweet toward Iowans followed in October. Trump is either lying about the intern or continues to make poor choices in social media management. Either way, it’s a fail.
Normally, I would protest the use of stock images over authentic material, but TV-quality footage and images can be hard to come by, especially on the campaign trail and on a tight budget. However, should you use stock imagery or video, take a moment to read its description, which includes where the image was taken. Marco Rubio, Donald Trump and Jeb Bush all featured ads that discussed domestic issues paired with stock footage of foreign countries.
Republicans aren’t the only ones making missteps in their ads. Hillary Clinton’s new ad uses images of an American woman discussing her business success—but the image of the woman was taken in France. And Bernie Sanders’ “America” ad, while moving, featured few people of color. While both ads aren’t necessarily damaging, they could have avoided public scrutiny if the campaigns more carefully examined images for potential weaknesses.
Don’t Photoshop yourself. Don’t Photoshop your opponent. It’s that simple. Chances are your unpaid campaign volunteer’s Photoshop skills are no match to anyone with a somewhat sharp eye and access to Google search. Any signs of photo editing can make a candidate seem untrustworthy.
In closing: A quick word to Super PACs
All of these rules apply to your organizations as well. A Super PAC for Chris Christie created an ad that featured the New Jersey Governor stating that the 14 years between 9/11 and the San Bernardino shootings were without terrorist attacks—neglecting to mention several domestic attacks in recent years. While we can’t place blame on Christie’s camp, we can hope Super PACs fact check and edit to avoid insensitive oversights that do more harm than good in the future.