Five Types of Campaign Advertisements


As we move closer to next month’s election – and the elections of 2018 – campaigns on both sides of the aisle are already beginning to inundate Americans with political ads.

It doesn’t matter where you live: odds are you will come across images of well-manicured lawns and ambiguous monologues from well-dressed, but not too well-dressed, Americans running for political office.

But can you identify a political ad before the first image of a politician’s family pops up? Here’s a primer on the different types of campaign ads to get you ready for every type of political content that will be broadcast, streamed, and Instagrammed in the coming year.

Ad Type #1: Introduction

Introduction videos are expected from political campaigns at the beginning of the race, and are typically released as the first political ad for candidates.

While other ads will effectively run on a loop for voters through the end of the campaign, the introductory video is designed to bring in the first round of fundraising, volunteers and support for campaigns. This ad typically features a candidate describing her/his background, qualifications and reasons for running. The only subject of the introductory ad is the candidate

Ad Type #2: Endorsement

An endorsement video is the hallmark of any campaign that is trying to identify and belong to a larger party or group of political actors. If a campaign is able to garner the endorsement of a significant political figure or celebrity, that video, statement or audio will be leveraged effectively into a larger political ad. Just posting the endorsement without further production or effort is a wasted opportunity for easy, original content that most audiences appreciate as an effective testimonial.

These ads will typically be released in the weeks following the publication of the endorsement. While a simple video of the endorser is usually fine, some campaigns will choose to addother forms of content, like campaign footage, b-roll, or photographs to create a more visually compelling advertisement.

Ad Type #3: Positive

As the most general type of campaign video content, ttypical positive ads involve the candidate talking about their issue positions or background in front of an environment typical of their district, i.e. an Arizona congressional candidate standing in a desert or a suburban city council candidate speaking in front of a park.

Positive advertisements help build an authentic brand for candidates, with a relatable background and policy platform needed to grow a supporter base of committed voters and volunteers. These advertisements allow campaigns to solicit donations and remind eligible citizens to vote throughout the election cycle.

Ad Type #4: Negative

Arguably the easiest type of ads for anyone to recognize, negative advertisements typically feature commentators narrating news or campaign footage of the opposition in a negative light. There is no call to action in negative advertisements except “Don’t vote for x candidate,” so the structures of these ads are all very similar, just with different content.

A simple message and reason is all that’s necessary for a negative ads to resonate with voters if campaigns use effective imagery to show contrast. A typical example of an ad from a challenger might highlight negative news coverage of an incumbent’s unpopular bill or an event that occurred during her/his term of office. Commonly, these advertisements will use red or dark colors with negative images of alerts or warnings to depict the opposing candidate as a dangerous choice for voters to make.

Ad Type #5: Citizen Testimonial

Unlike an endorsement that relies on a celebrity to make a case for the candidate, citizen testimonials use  “ordinary Americans” to vouch for the candidate.

With an average citizen sitting on a couch or next to the candidate, these ads typically try to reach the viewer through stories of struggle that the candidate will fight against or triumph that the candidate engineered. Everyone has probably seen an advertisement featuring a military veteran talking about how the candidate of concern is the best for dealing with healthcare, public safety, or national security. It’s all about identifying with the subject as someone familiar, sympathizing with his/her plight, or respecting the subject as someone with authority or expertise on the issue at hand.

Future of Campaign Advertising

With the advent of new social media platforms and video distribution methods, we’re likely to see new types of political ads as candidates embrace Snapchat, Instagram live and hashtag-activism in their campaigns.

As you see more native advertising on Buzzfeed and the New York Times for brands, you’re also likely to see similar ads for for Senate and gubernatorial candidates. While traditional television ads are likely to remain the foundation for any campaign advertising, voters should be alert that soon every type of digital screen will host political appeals.

BallotReady is the only nonpartisan online voter guide that provides personalized, easy-to-use, and accessible information about your ballot. From the top of the ticket to the very bottom, BallotReady helps voters compare candidates based on stances on issues, biography, and endorsements. We make it easy to vote informed on every race and referendum. See every race and referendum on your Ballot here!

By Mikala Cohen, BallotReady Blog Intern