The Five Best Political Commercials You’ve Never Seen (plus Two That You Have)

That's relatively speaking, of course.

It’s a dirty job, but someone had to do it.

Kantar Media CMAG watches some 400 political television commercials a day, so you don’t have to.

This totals about 6,600 different political commercials, “races for municipal office up to president, and in issue campaigns ranging from how to pay for a new bridge in Detroit to how to define marriage in several states,” according to Kantar VP Elizabeth Wilner.

Today she announced their picks of “five standouts.”

Best of the worst?

These commercials are from different states, for candidates from different parties, for all kinds of different offices. But they have several things in common:

  • They’re all for down-ticket offices; nothing above U. S. Senator.
  • Non-national candidates’ budgets being smaller, they’re designed to run for most, if not all, of the campaign’s duration, so you don’t see any of the crank-it-out, cut-and-paste jobs that characterize national campaigns slavishly following the 24-hour news cycle, which, Wilner says, “ad-makers are expected to churn out…  faster and, often, less creatively than ever.”
  • Each airs in just one jurisdiction, so you won’t see what we call “fill in the blank” commercials and what Wilner calls “‘doughnut ads,’ …[with] a hole in the middle where the ad-maker inserts a candidate’s name and home base” or fact and figure about a specific state.
  • Only in comparison to the usual political spot can these be considered good commercials. Sorta like being the tallest midget or the healthiest leper.

So, having built up the suspense, here are Kantar’s picks of five standout political spots. To these I’ve added two I like – one running here in the Richmond area and the other running nationally (and particularly in Virginia, a battleground state).

Five you haven’t seen

Two of these commercials are for U. S. Senate races (Ohio and Missouri), two for Congressional seats (Florida and South Dakota), and one for a State Senate seat in Alaska.

  • Ohio – Crossroads GPS rips off the DirecTV campaign showing far-fetched consequences of unlikely decisions (e.g., “Don’t reenact scenes from Platoon with Charlie Sheen”) to dramatize the consequences of voting for Sherrod Brown.
  • Missouri – This well-shot testimonial from a woman who’d been raped holds Todd Akin’s feet to the fire about his stupid rape remarks.
  • Florida – Retired army lieutenant colonel Alan West attacks his opponent’s character.
  • South Dakota – Running for reelection, Christie Noem tries to make a laundry list of talking points more interesting by having her grandmother deliver them.
  • Alaska – The production values stink, and State Senator Bettye Davis’s gumbo analogy is contrived, borrowed interest and a reach, but you’ve gotta say it is different. Also, the gumbo itself is not only very low-res, but very unappetizing-looking.

Two you probably have

When you’re running against Eric Cantor in his largely western Richmond and Henrico County district, being a Democrat doesn’t help much. That’s why I liked this commercial for challenger Wayne Powell, which I first saw on local Richmond television. Though I don’t agree with Powell’s policies, which, as it turns out, aren’t quite as stated in this commercial, I do like the production values and the sense of humor here, which you don’t generally find in political spots.

The other commercial, from Americans for Prosperity, has gotten 446,100 YouTube views to date. In addition to national exposure, it’s running in battleground states, of which Virginia is among the most heavily contested. On October 7, we called it

everything most political spots aren’t. It has no voice-over, no spoken dialogue whatever. The first 23 seconds are taken up by a family of four sitting silently and tensely at their dinner table. All the “conversation” during the meal is through eye contact, facial expression and body language. Finally, a super tells us why. “12.1 Million Americans Unemployed,” it says – including, by implication, the male head of household we’ve just seen.

It’s not just a good political commercial. It’s a good commercial.

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