Campaign Ad Watch

Govt. 158: Mass Media and Politics




I. Description of the ad

·        Race/ Campaign: Governor

·        First air date: October 9, 2006

·        Title: “Compare”

·        Ad found online at

·        Sponsor: Californians for Schwarzenegger- 2006


This is a contrast ad supporting Arnold Schwarzenegger.  It opens with 13 seconds of statements supporting Arnold, followed by 15 seconds of statements about Phil Angelides.  The music in this ad changes tone with each segment, providing cheerful and calming music for Schwarzenegger, and sad and unnerving music for Angelides.  The text that appears in the ad also changes between candidates.  Text appearing with Arnold is green and white, while text with Phil is red and white.  There is also contrast in the footage used for each segment.  Arnold is shown for five of the 13 seconds in his segment while Angelides is shown for all 15 seconds for his.  The remaining eight seconds of the Schwarzenegger segment shows footage of California schools, workers and landscape that support the pro-Schwarzenegger statements being voiced at the same time. 

The only contact information the ad provides is the web address for the Schwarzenegger campaign and the organization sponsoring the ad.  No phone numbers, mailing addresses or other contact information is given for either candidate.  While the ad is clearly supportive of Schwarzenegger and ends with the statement, “we know a leader when we see one”, it does not mention any words in terms of supporting, defeating, or voting for either candidate.  Rather, information is given about each person’s political performance from which the viewer is supposed to draw their own conclusion. 

This ad also features the Schwarzenegger campaign slogan “Keep moving California forward.”  The ad suggests that Phil Angelides will do the opposite and does so by showing video of Angelides in reverse during his segment of the ad.  The ad cites only one source from the EPA, which provided a statement shown in text from the EPA regarding Angelides’ violation of the Clean Water Act. 

No other political candidates are mentioned or shown in the ad.  No claims made by the Angelides campaign are refuted or mentioned.  The ad focuses on the benefits of Schwarzenegger’s policy in California; it then focuses on the Angelides’ voting record which reflects poorly on his characteristics as a politician.  There is no mention of George W Bush nor the Republican or Democratic parties.  Additionally, there are no national political issues mentioned to support or attack either candidate. 

Despite that this is a pro-Arnold-contrast ad, Angelides is shown eight seconds more than Schwarzenegger.  Other than video clips of California to support Arnold’s performance as governor, no other characters appear other than Arnold and Phil.  During Schwarzenegger’s segment the ad shows various shots of California, including a school, a city and a construction worker.  The only footage of Arnold is shown among a crowd of supporters and walking off his campaign bus.  The segment featuring Angelides shows the candidate in various locations on city streets as he is walking and getting into his car.  The location of where the footage was taken could not be determined. 

The entire ad is narrated by a woman with text that appears on screen to support the narration.  The ad does not include endorsements of any kind nor is any other political race mentioned. 


II. Techniques


Despite the name of the commercial, this is a contrast ad that attacks Phil Angelides.  It employs broad generalizations of California’s improved economy while never directly crediting them with Governor Schwarzenegger’s administration and uses disinformation to characterize Angelides’ position on health care and the environment.

This type of attack ad utilizes “intended effects”, which is defined as "creating negative feelings toward the targeted candidate and positive feelings toward the sponsoring candidate.[1]  This strategy runs the risk of producing the opposite reaction, known as a “boomerang effect” and is characterized by the term “unintended effects”.  As defined, unintended effects may create more negative feelings toward the sponsor, rather than toward the target.[2]

The Schwarzenegger ad uses music and narrator tone to praise Arnold and vilify Phil.  The Schwarzenegger segment of the ad is colorful and bright, the music is cheerful and happy and the narrator talks with enthusiasm and optimism. 

The Angelides segment of the ad changes music and narrator tone to set a negative environment, designed to persuade the viewer to listen and read with a perspective of mistrust and pessimism. In addition, the footage of Angelides is turned black and white and shown in reverse.  This type of footage is designed to visually suggest that Phil Angelides will reverse California’s progress, while the absence of color depicts him as bland and uninteresting.  The use of black and white video also removes a visual stimulus from the viewer, leaving more attention to be paid to the narrator’s anti-Angelides statements. 

The text that is displayed in the ad changes between candidates as well.  During the Schwarzenegger segment, text that appears is colored green while text that appears for Angelides is red.  Considering that the Republican Party is associated with the color red and blue for the Democratic Party, we can speculate that the colors are designed to signify green for progress and red for regression, which follows the theme of the ad and Arnold’s slogan of “Keep California moving forward.”


III. Adwatch


Type of ad: This type of ad is known as a contrast ad.  It is designed to separate the candidate from the opposition and becomes a negative ad when the central focus is to attack the opponent. 


Context: This ad conveys the message that Phil Angelides will reverse California’s social and economic progress if elected governor.  This type of negative advertising represents a small percentage of the total political advertising that has been distributed by both candidates, which focuses on their political platform instead of attacking their opponent.  This ad, named “Compare” is intended to illustrate the growth and recovery of California under the Schwarzenegger campaign and advocates re-electing Schwarzenegger to continue that growth.  This ad is not designed to stress Schwarzenegger’s accomplishments but rather show how Arnold is the better candidate by attacking Phil Angelides character and political performance.


Truthfulness:  7 (out of 10)


The information used in the ad, while technically true, has been used with political spin to illicit a negative response to Phil Angelides.


The ad provides two statements regarding Phil Angelides:


“He says he’s committed to health care, but his position on universal coverage changed three times in just one month.”


This statement refers to Angelides’ position on California Senate Bill 840 (SB 840).  SB 840 is a monumental health care bill that involves drastic changes to California’s health care system and creates a new California bureaucracy to administer health car for all Californians.[3]  The information is accurate, Angelides did change his position from support to neutral to oppose, but it is used out of context to say that Angelides has a wavering position on universal health care when you consider it is in reference to SB 840.


Angelides says he's an environmentalist, but he's the only candidate cited by the EPA for destroying wetlands.”


While the language has been sharpened for impact in this ad, Angelides was cited by the EPA.  Prior to Angelides’ political career, Angelides' company, River West, was ordered to halt work in Folsom after violating the Clean Water Act.[4]  Further investigation shows that following the incident, in reconciling with the EPA and State of California, Angelides resolved this dispute among government agencies eighteen years ago. Angelides created over 30 acres of wetlands on-site and preserved 20 additional acres offsite.[5]  Since Arnold has not been cited by the EPA for destroying wetlands, the statement is true with the obvious intention of over emphasizing the fact.


Effectiveness: 6 (out of 10)


This ad will most likely illicit an emotional response from the viewer but will not be expected to sway a mass number of voters.  A method of measuring emotional response known as the response model assumes that when people are exposed to a message, they have psychological processes that determine the impact of the message.[6]  Ads tend to reinforce pre-existing views of voters and may slightly raise or lower their enthusiasm in the election.  Viewers who are less informed or have weak party affiliations are most effectively influenced by negative ads like this one.  Across all voting groups, political ads both negative and positive will raise information levels of voters, despite how distorted the information may be. 


How effective is this ad likely to be?  Judge this based on research on campaign advertising, public opinion polls on the topics, etc.  Make sure to cite your sources for all of this.


How informative is it?  6 (out of 10)


                        The ad states vague information about California’s improvements and doesn’t directly credit Schwarzenegger with them.  However, the ad presents more substantive information about Phil Angelides.  Both statements about the single payer health care bill and the EPA are true but presented in a distorted manner.  Those who investigate the statements further will realize the information had been taken out of context.


IV. Resources:


[1] Garramone, "Voter Responses to Negative Political Ads," 250.

[2] Garramone, "Voter Responses to Negative Political Ads," 251.




[6] Peter L. Wright, "The Cognitive Processes Mediating Acceptance of Advertising," Journal of Marketing Research 10 (1973): 53-62.