Two ads released Wednesday by the campaigns of President Obama and Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney are worth noting because of how they illustrate the very different challenges now facing the two candidates.
One thing both ads rest on is some form of guilt.
For Obama, who has the advantage of being ahead in new polls in several battleground states, the challenge is to keep his supporters from assuming the president has victory in the bag, and therefore not voting.
It’s also a way to get them to vote in an election that lacks the history-making excitement of 2008, and which finds the hope of four years ago tempered by Washington reality.
So Obama’s new ad uses the tried and true marketing technique of anticipatory guilt.
In an ad clearly aimed at younger voters with gay or female friends, the narrator says:
“What are you going to tell them? You were just too busy. You didn’t think it mattered.” (At this point, the screen is occupied by young men with video controllers in their hands who appear fixated on a game.)
“Is that what you’re going to tell your friends who can’t get married? The ones who couldn’t serve openly in the military? Are you going to tell them they can’t make decisions about their own bodies anymore because you didn’t think your vote counted?”
You get the picture. With more than a month to go before Election Day, but with early voting either already under way or soon to start in some swing states, the Obama campaign is tugging firmly on the cord connected to the human guilt response.
Romney, by contrast, was working on doing some damage control following the release of the now-infamous video in which he can be seen talking about the “47 percent” of the electorate.
While he hasn’t technically apologized for his remarks, Romney was clearly guilty of creating a controversy that appears to have hurt him in the polls.
To many who saw the video Mother Jones made famous, Romney was reminiscent of Gordon Gekko. It didn’t help that he was already being likened to that fictional Wall Street master of the universe even before the video from the fundraiser emerged.
So Romney’s ad featured the candidate talking directly into the camera to demonstrate that he does care about the concerns of average Americans. Repeating an argument he has turned to in recent days, Romney says in the ad:
“Too many Americans are struggling to find work in today’s economy. Too many of those who are working are living paycheck to paycheck trying to make falling incomes meet rising prices for food and gas. More Americans are living in poverty than when President Obama took office and 15 million more are on food stamps.
“President Obama and I both care about poor and middle-class families. The difference is my policy will make things better for them…”
Obviously, no presidential campaign would choose to spend its time and money essentially telling voters “I care” this late in the game. But it’s a message Romney was forced into by the video made at the Boca Raton, Fla., fundraiser.
Meanwhile, the Obama campaign is already shifting its media messaging into get-out-the-vote mode. And in any election, it’s getting out your vote that, in the end, really matters.