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In Praise of (the Occassional) Negative Campaign

Posted by Bill Lee on August 21, 2008 at 08:12 AM

It's the season of presidential politics, so I thought I'd jump in. It's become conventional wisdom to decry negative campaigning -- it's right up there with excessive CEO pay and declining public schools. Yesterday's Seth Godin: "The reliance on negative stories in politics makes me sick. I think we should be above that."

Not me! Without negative campaigning (or "differentiation campaigning":) we're left to gain our understanding about our next president from the candidates own spin doctors. That's like buying an important and expensive service only by reading the in-house marketing copy. Nothing we do as a people is as important as picking a president. It's essential for voters to exercise critical thinking. Well placed negative messaging helps us do that.

Best negative campaign out there? The political ones that I've seen are a pretty sorry lot. The best is from business: the PC vs. Mac ads. Sly, humorous, and here's the key for me: they don't demonize PC - like a political ad would. Instead, they convey a sense of affection for poor, bumbling PC. When he does something dumb or off putting, sympathetic Mac looks . . . disappointed. Very effective.

Note to Obama and MsCain negative ad-meisters (and yes, Obama will be going negative soon with his recent drop in the polls) (Update: the man moves fast!): why not take the same tone in your negative ads? Don't demonize the other guy. Point out his shortcomings in a gently humorous way . . and then sympathize with him! "Hey, we're all human! The other guy's just gotten off track a bit. He's not such a bad guy, but I can do a better job for you." I think they'd be more effective. They'd definitely go down easier with viewers.

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