Do People Have To Like an Ad for It To Work?

The new science of winning campaigns
Aug. 24 2012 6:41 PM

Do People Have To Like an Ad for It To Work?

141629303
Members of the news media record Mitt Romney from a television set as he hosts a Romney For President Volunteer Google+ hangout town hall at the Google Chicago headquarters March 20, 2012 in Chicago, Illi.

Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

After musing this morning on different ways of thinking about what a TV ad can do, I’d be remiss if I didn’t note two sources that have spent the summer auditioning new tools to assess the success of a single spot.  

Vanderbilt University political scientist John Geer has teamed up with YouGov, a pollster that uses Internet-based samples, and launched the Ad Rating Project, which allows a 600-person panel to judge ads. The project is designed to be a democratized counterweight to punditry. “We no longer have to rely solely on ad-hoc conversations among experts, various fact checkers, and journalists about whether an ad crosses the line,” Geer and YouGov’s Doug Rivers wrote in Politico. “We instead give Americans a chance to weigh in with their thoughts.”  As a consequence, it relies on purely qualitative questions. Did viewers like the ad? Was it memorable, interesting, unfair, untruthful or unbelievable? Did it make them feel hopeful, happy, disgusted, angry, and worried?

These are, of course, foremost judgments about aesthetics and propriety. Adam Schaeffer, a co-founder and research director of the Republican consulting firm Evolving Strategies, is trying to measure impact.

His firm is promoting the use of what it brands a “PocketTrial,” basically a lab experiment, in which an online sample is randomly shown ads and then polled on the state of the race and candidate popularity afterwards. Since the viewers were assigned to groups randomly, Schaeffer can attribute differences in how the groups respond to the influence of the ads they saw. “This is the only way you can get some purchase on causality,” he says.

When he recently showed two short videos to his subjects to assess the impact of messaging related to Paul Ryan’s selection—one from Romney’s campaign trumpeting the ticket, the other from Obama’s attacking the Ryan Plan—in each case male viewers moved dramatically in the directions each ad wanted to push them while female ones barely budged. “Women seem more stable in their vote choice,” he says.

Schaeffer is reassuringly timid about venturing an assumption as to why that might be. But he scoffs at the idea that the answer could be uncovered by asking voters to declare whether they find an ad interesting or claim to be disgusted by it. “We just observe—we don’t ask people to judge an ad,” he says. “We don’t care what they think of it.”

Sasha Issenberg is the author of The Victory Lab about the new science of political campaigns.

TODAY IN SLATE

Culturebox

The End of Pregnancy

And the inevitable rise of the artificial womb.

Doctor Tests Positive for Ebola in New York City

How a Company You’ve Never Heard of Took Control of the Entire Porn Industry

The Hot New Strategy for Desperate Democrats

Blame China for everything.

The Questions That Michael Brown’s Autopsies Can’t Answer

Foreigners

Kiev Used to Be an Easygoing Place

Now it’s descending into madness.

Technology

Don’t Just Sit There

How to be more productive during your commute.

There Has Never Been a Comic Book Character Like John Constantine

Which Came First, the Word Chicken or the Word Egg?

  News & Politics
The World
Oct. 23 2014 1:51 PM Is This the ISIS Backlash We've Been Waiting For?
  Business
Moneybox
Oct. 23 2014 5:53 PM Amazon Investors Suddenly Bearish on Losing Money
  Life
Outward
Oct. 23 2014 5:08 PM Why Is an Obscure 1968 Documentary in the Opening Credits of Transparent?
  Double X
The XX Factor
Oct. 23 2014 11:33 AM Watch Little Princesses Curse for the Feminist Cause
  Slate Plus
Working
Oct. 23 2014 11:28 AM Slate’s Working Podcast: Episode 2 Transcript Read what David Plotz asked Dr. Meri Kolbrener about her workday.
  Arts
Brow Beat
Oct. 23 2014 6:55 PM A Goodfellas Actor Sued The Simpsons for Stealing His Likeness. Does He Have a Case?
  Technology
Technology
Oct. 23 2014 11:45 AM The United States of Reddit  How social media is redrawing our borders. 
  Health & Science
Science
Oct. 23 2014 5:42 PM Seriously, Evolution: WTF? Why I love the most awkward, absurd, hacked-together species.
  Sports
Sports Nut
Oct. 20 2014 5:09 PM Keepaway, on Three. Ready—Break! On his record-breaking touchdown pass, Peyton Manning couldn’t even leave the celebration to chance.