What, if anything, can be learned from our favorite ads of the 2020 election cycle? Because this was submission based, not empirical by even the most creative definition of the word and decided by the internet; the answer is not much. There are some patterns among the ads, but they probably say more about those submitting the ads than the ads themselves.
The first thing that becomes apparent is that the ads break down into two basic reaction categories which are as follows:
Most submissions were from either staff members or our Twitter followers all of which can be described as political junkies and/or political insiders. It should be no surprise that among those people the most remembered ads were ones that either shocked or confused them. Not every ad discussed in this post will be linked to or posted so if you would like to take a look at them before continuing on, you can see them all here.
First let’s take a look at the ad voted best overall: The Warnock Dog Ad. This ad made waves in political circles so its success in our twitter bracket is maybe one of the least surprising things to happen in 2021. The main point of the ad is simply to combat the negative ads running against Warnock at the time and it accomplishes that in a light-hearted, humorous way. What made this ad famous though is the many subtle ways it cuts against negative stereotypes and attacks without directly addressing them. At the time this ad aired, Loeffler was trying to paint Warnock as a radical, trying to destroy your way of life, so he airs an ad where he’s walking around in his suburban neighborhood, walking his dog. He didn’t need to say he wasn’t a radical, because he showed it. Michael Tesler of FiveThirtyEight wrote an article showing that white voters stereotypically see black people as owning scary dogs. By showcasing his beagle in the ad, Warnock is also cutting against a stereotype many people probably don’t even know they have and again softening his image without having to explicitly address the issue. With all these things going for it, it’s no wonder this ad won the bracket.
The second-place ad was a Spanish language Trump ad called Por Trump that is maybe the catchiest ad of the 2020 political cycle. Everyone who hears the song can be heard humming “La economia, por Trump! La buena vida, por Trump! Da-dada-da-da, por Trump!” for the rest of the day. It’s an earworm, and an effective one at that. During Trump’s presidency the Hispanic/Latino unemployment rate was the lowest it’s ever been in the United States. By somehow concocting a catchy ad that reminds these voters of how things were before the pandemic, it capitalizes on Trump’s biggest strength among voters, the economy. Plus, it’s fun, upbeat, and shows Trump dancing, which is a real treat.
Most of the other ads in our bracket got a lot of play among the political class, but maybe didn’t resonate as much with voters. And maybe that’s the lesson here: the top ad of the cycle was one that drove a message, consistent with the rest of the candidates messaging, and got play among the junkies. Good ads help drive a message, they’re not one-offs, but maybe great ads are ads that both drive messages and get play amongst the political insiders. Maybe that’s why ads like Warnock’s Dog ad were so effective because they actually resonated with voters and made political junkies want to stand up and applaud.