Now that the dust is settling after the midterm elections, it might be safer to consider the advent of negative advertising and whether or not it still works. The answer might be in the middle, with Americans clearly losing their appetite for it.
It's not exclusive to political advertisements. Companies employ them from time to time too, just with less frequency. Chevron clearly has in its campaign to claim that it is different from most energy companies. However, there might be some unintended consequences based on what it says.
What does it say? Oil companies make huge profits. Last year, Chevron made a lot of money. Where does it go? Oil companies should put their money to good use. All that sticks, but not the solution. Let's take a look...
The rest of the message is quickly lost to overlapping and less convicted dialogue, until Chevron is fully branded to the opening negative message. Did you see it? We make huge profits ... Chevron. We should put our money to good use ... Chevron. The economy is bad ... Chevron. It's the kind of strategy that lends itself to all sorts of interpretations, including those with colorful language.
Advertisers need to learn that people tend to associate negative messages with the source as much as the subject. The same can be said about political advertisements that are overtly negative, with some exceptions. But if it will help you to give yourself pause, always consider that negative messages generally stick to the source.
Some candidates learned this the hard way last night, except in Nevada. Front groups still seem to pull the wool over the eyes of Nevada voters. More than $1.7 million in negative ads was lobbied against one candidate from one front group, for example. But since the ad was funded by a front group, the opposing candidate wasn't considered the source.
Of course, both candidates did enter into the mudslinging on their own too. The reason was simple enough. Both of their respective teams knew they could no longer gain likability so they sought only to increase each other's unlikability. Now, neither of them are very well liked. Mission accomplished.
As much as I hate to admit it, negative ads do work, especially in politics. However, they tend to work best if they aren't too personal, too unbelievable (with the exception of humor), or too attached to the source as opposed to the subject. Looking back at the Chevron ad, you can easily see they miss on all three. The spoof, however, hits all three.