As campaign season heats up in North Carolina, I don’t blame you if you forget what decade you’re in.

Even as the digital and media landscape is rapidly changing, campaign ads from even the youngest and best-funded candidates in North Carolina do not look any different from the ones run in 2008 — or even 1998.

You know exactly what I mean. There’s the positive TV ad template, with a close up of the candidate’s face, a few words, a voice-over while B-roll footage of the candidate talking to real North Carolinians plays.

Then there’s the negative TV ad template, full of images with dark filters on them and graphics of newspaper clippings.

The graphics and fonts might be a touch more modern, but in 2018 the campaign playbook hasn’t changed.

Here are some examples of 2018 campaign ads compared with previous decades.

Here’s Bev Perdue running for governor in 2008.

Now compare that with these ads this year from U.S. Rep. Ted Budd and congressional candidate Kathy Manning.

Here’s U.S. Rep. Mike McIntyre in 2008.

Compare that with congressional candidate Dan McCready this year.

Finally, here’s an oldie. Watch this anti-John Edwards ad in the 1998 campaign for U.S. Senate.

See any similarities here?

Perhaps these ads will still work in 2018. But they’re undoubtedly growing less effective.

As millennials become a larger percentage of the electorate, traditional TV ads will no longer find their mark. For one, cord-cutters and people watching on over-the-top services like Hulu Live just won’t see these ads.

While campaigns are currently mostly porting these ads over to Facebook, where more video content is consumed, they just don’t play as well.

Voters appear to be growing tired of scripted, formulaic political messaging.

What works better? Seemingly unscripted, authentic speeches from the heart.

The most successful political advertisement of 2018 so far has to be this video featuring Beto O’Rourke, an upstart challenger to U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz in Texas. It’s instantly made that race more competitive and already has his name floating as a possible presidential candidate in 2024.

It’s not even really an advertisement. Part of O’Rourke’s digital strategy is to broadcast town hall events on Facebook. This video was taken from a clip of that.

Few candidates are trying this route in North Carolina. One exception would be Sen. Jeff Jackson, who achieved some viral success this year with this unscripted-style video protesting the budget bill — to the tune of half a million views.

Sen. Jeff Jackson speaks on the 2018 budget

After leadership shut down the budget process, here's what I told them on the senate floor.

Posted by Jeff Jackson on Friday, June 1, 2018

The successful candidates of the future will make these moments possible.

Voters can see through inauthenticity, but there’s a way to foster these kinds of effective messages.

  • Be OK with releasing unpolished videos.
  • Have candidates speak from the heart.
  • Get video in unscripted moments.
  • Encourage supporters to take and distribute video.
  • Think in 2-minute messages, not 30 seconds.

Want to keep up with 2018 political ads?

Here’s a great resource the N.C. Free Enterprise Foundation.

And here’s another from WRAL.


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