All of your campaign communications, whether they are paid advertisements, direct mail letters, speeches given by the candidate, or press releases sent to local news outlets, have a singular purpose: to get your candidate closer to winning the election.  Any communication that doesn’t move you closer to victory is a waste of valuable resources.

Campaign communications in general and television advertisements in particular are sticky areas for campaigns: supporters, staff, and major donors will weigh in constantly telling you what they think you should be doing and when you should be doing it.  Avoid the mistake of making your communications decisions based on fleeting sentiments.  Instead, lay out a communications plan early and stick to it.

As mentioned above, all of your campaign communications have one big purpose: to win the election.  There are 6 main types of political campaign advertisements and communications that can help you win your election.  Each category could apply to any type of campaign communication, including speeches, letters, direct mail, TV and radio ads, billboards, etc.

The Bio Ad/Mailing

A bio ad is just that – it’s a campaign communication that talks about your candidate’s biography, where he or she came from, and what makes them a good candidate.  It is closely related to the name ID ad discussed below, in that it works to raise the name ID of a candidate and talk a bit about the message.  Bio advertisements and mailings are often the first communications pieces sent out by a campaign.

The Name ID Ad/Mailing

The purpose of a name ID ad or mailing is to raise the name ID of the candidate – to make sure his or her name is well known and is related, in the mind of the voter, to the campaign message.  That’s it – the name ID ad generally doesn’t talk abut issues in depth, instead, its goal is simply to make sure that the voters know the name of the candidate and the office that he or she is running for.

The Issues Ad/Mailing

An issues ad or mailing highlights the campaign’s key issue, or one of the campaign’s key issues.  It is sometimes called a “positive ad” because it only talks about positive issues – those issues the campaign wants to address.  Unlike comparison or negative ads, the positive ad doesn’t delve into what your opponents think, instead focusing on what your candidate believes and promises.

The Comparison Ad/Mailing

A comparison ad presents the voters with a choice by highlighting the issues that your campaign is focusing on, and then showing what your candidate believes, comparing those stands on the issues with what you opponent believes.  The comparison ad is often done as direct mail.

The Negative Ad/Mailing

I don’t like the name “negative ad” but that’s the standard terminology.  Despite what you may have heard, negative campaigning isn’t evil or wrong, so long as it is factual and issues based.

A negative ad or mailing is the one type of campaign communication that focuses almost exclusively on your opponent, telling voters what your opponent’s stands are on issues where the public disagrees with your opponent.  Remember, negative ad are fine, and in many circumstances may be the best type of communication for your campaign, but keep them issues based – don’t delve into ad hominum attacks on the other candidate, or lie… not only is it unethical, but it can often cost you the election.

The GOTV Ad/Mailing

The Get Out the Vote (GOTV) ad’s task is to motivate voters who support you to go to the polls and vote on Election Day.  At the end of an election cycle, campaigns often send out direct mail, run phone banks, go door to door, and even run TV ads,  targeting only their supporters with one message: remember that Tuesday is Election Day, so go vote for our guy or gal!

No Matter the Ad Type, Make Sure You Stay on Message!

It’s imperative that you remember that no matter what type of campaign communication you are sending out, it must stay on message.  Your campaign message is the driving force of your campaign communications.  If you’re talking about your bio, how does it show that you are capable of implementing your message?  If you’re talking about issues, how do they support your message?  If you’re doing a negative advertisement, how does it show that your opponent will not be able to fix the problems and deal with the issues you lay out in support of your message?  Remember, message is king.

Figuring Out Your Category Mix

One of the key decisions that your campaign will need to make is determining what mix of the above communications categories you will focus on, and when.  For example, when should your ads be comparison pieces?  When should your ads be bio pieces?

Generally, your first task in a campaign is raising your candidate’s name ID.  This is done through bio ads/mailings and name ID ads and mail pieces.

Once your candidate’s name has started to penetrate the voters’ consciousness, you want to tie your candidate to the campaign message and give the voters a reason to support her.  You do this through issues ads.

Then, once your candidate is firmly established, you want to show why your candidate is a good choice, and your opponent is a bad choice…. In other words, once you have established the question of the election through your positive ads, you want to show why you are a good answer to the question and your opponent is not.  You do this through comparison and negative ads and mailings.

Finally, at the end of the campaign, you want to encourage your supporters to go out and vote on Election Day.  You do this through GOTV ads.

Note that once you move into comparison and negative ads, you should continue to run positive ads as well – you don’t want your campaign to become completely focused on your opponent.  Generally, even during a heated campaign focusing on a negative issue, a campaign will still make sure that at least 40-50% of its communications are positive in nature.

Avoiding “Fluff” Pieces

During the campaign, supporters will undoubtedly try to convince you to run “fluff” pieces… these are ads and mailings that don’t fit any of the categories listed above, and instead focus on tangential topics or issues close to the heart of one of your supporters, but which doesn’t tie into your message.  Thank the supporter, staff member, or volunteer for their suggestions, but avoid the urge to run fluff pieces… they distract from your campaign message and waste valuable time and resources.