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Language Network, Grade 10
Home > Language Network, Grade 10 > Chapter 29 > ANALYZING MEDIA: Political Ads
Return to book index Chapter 29 : Analyzing News in the Media


Vote for me!
Like advertisers, politicians rely on TV advertising to essentially "sell" themselves—their beliefs, image, political agenda, and values—to voters during election time. Politicians know that frequently seen TV ads can have a powerful and persuasive influence on voters. As a result, many politicians devote large parts of their budgets to producing ads and airing them when their target audience is likely to be watching.

What does it mean?
During an election year, you probably see a variety of political ads on TV. But do you ever stop to think about the messages that are being conveyed? As you may already know, political ads can convey both positive and negative feelings. The purpose of a positive political ad is to create support for the featured candidate by emphasizing the candidate's good qualities and accomplishments. Positive ads are intended to leave viewers feeling good about the candidate.

Instead of focusing on the favorable aspects of the featured candidate, negative ads use disturbing statistics, visuals, and sounds to make the candidate's opponent seem out-of-date or inadequate. Often, very little information is given about the featured candidate. The main purpose of a negative ad is to incite your fears about what could happen if the opponent is elected.

Click on the link below to access an activity on the PBS Web site. This activity will allow you to apply what you've just learned about political ads. You will see footage that shows a fictional politician shaking hands with his supporters. By manipulating the visuals and changing the sounds, you can transform the footage into an effective positive or negative political ad. Once you've completed the exercise, return to the next step in this activity.

Now that you are an expert in creating political ads, it's your turn to judge a political ad created by a real presidential candidate from United States history. The link below will take you to a historical time line of political ads from 1939 to 1998. By clicking on images in the time line, you can download famous political ads that were once seen on TV by many American voters. Pick one political ad to analyze. As you write your analysis, refer to the Questions to Consider. When you are finished, share your expert political analysis with your classmates.

Questions to Consider

  1. Which candidate is this political ad promoting? Can you tell from the ad who the candidate's opponent is?
  2. During which election year did this political ad air? What was going on in the country during that time? Does the ad address any important issues of the time?
  3. Is this a positive or negative political ad? How can you tell?
  4. What visuals are shown in the ad? Describe the choice of camera shots, framing, and lighting.
  5. What sounds are employed? Describe the narration, music, and sound effects.
  6. What persuasive techniques are used? Examples of persuasive techniques include emotional appeal, product comparison, slogan, and security.
  7. In your opinion, is this political ad effective? Why or why not?

Camera Shots
A camera shot is a continuous view taken by a camera, from the time it starts recording to the time it stops. To convey positive feelings, a political ad might use shots that show the candidate shaking hands with supporters, or shots that show the American flag.

Emotional Appeal
A persuasive technique used in advertising. A political ad that uses this technique is intended to make viewers feel certain emotions, such as happiness, nostalgia, or excitement. If viewers feel good about the ad, they may transfer that feeling to the candidate.

The positioning of objects and people within a television frame to convey certain meanings or to achieve effects. For example, a candidate might be framed close up and from a low angle to make him or her seem more important.

Different styles of lighting may be used in political ads to achieve particular effects. For example, strobing lights and the use of black and white can help make a candidate's opponent seem threatening or unpleasant.

Music is used to help create a mood for a political ad. For example, a positive ad might feature patriotic music, while a negative ad might use music that creates an ominous or unpleasant mood.

Persuasive Techniques
The techniques used in advertisements to convince consumers or voters to buy a product or elect a candidate.

Product Comparison
A persuasive technique used in advertising. The political ad features a comparison between the featured candidate and his or her opponent. It depicts the opponent as inferior. The intended effect is to make viewers question the values or motives of the opponent.

A persuasive technique used in advertising. The ad draws on voters' fears by telling them that their jobs, families, or their lives will be in jeopardy—unless they vote for the featured candidate.

A memorable phrase used in a political campaign, or a series of political ads. Viewers remember the slogan and associate its message with the candidate.

Sound Effects
The sound effects employed in political ads can also help to create a mood. For example, sound effects, such as a loud "boom" or a repeated pounding, might be featured in a negative ad to help create a threatening mood.

Target Audience
The group of people advertisers and politicians aim their pitch at. The members of a target audience often share certain characteristics, such as age, gender, ethnicity, values, or lifestyle.