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The Four Most Overused Shots in Campaign Commercials

Written by Dave Huguenal, Managing Director

I love commercials, I always have. Whether it’s the iconic monstrosity that Quiznos heaved upon the world in 2004, the Head On commercial that was mind numbingly brilliant in its simplicity, or the original Old Spice commercial that turned marketing for mens body products on its head, I rarely hit “skip” when advertising gems like these light up my screen.

Now, I’m not here to talk about sandwiches, dubious healthcare products, or men's soap. No, I’m here to talk about advertising from political campaigns and what we can learn from those ads. Each one of the ads I linked broke advertising rules and norms in an effort to gain the viewer's attention, which is probably obvious to anyone that views them. However, the more interesting discussion is why those companies went to such great and bizarre lengths to find a new creative path to captivate the viewer…

I would argue that they were forced to do so because ads in their space (meaning for their companies and their competitors) had become so commoditized that consumers couldn’t see any real difference between choices. Commercials had become visually stale and for someone watching the tube, they might recall seeing an ad about a sub shop, but they couldn’t tell you which one it was. However, slap a fluffy rat puppet thing playing a guitar and singing about a pepper bar in there, and it’s undeniable that you were watching a Quiznos ad.

In the political campaign world, we’re desperately ready for the same renaissance. Each year more and more candidates are able to put ads on the air, and each year most ads get tuned out by viewers because they use the same tropes that we’ve all been trained to use. Well, I’m here to say that I’m ready to defy norms and produce videos for my clients that cut through the noise and leave the voter wanting to see more, and frankly, if your video team isn’t saying the same thing then they are living in the past.

So, today I present to you, the four shots that are overused in campaign ads that, if used, will leave your campaign commercial looking like a thousand others out there…

1.) Candidate Flipping Through Family Photo Album

I’ve lost count of how many campaign ads have used this shot. First, it’s 2022, and if you ask anyone below the age of 40 what a photo album is they’ll hand you your phone. Second, can you name the last time you sat down next to somebody and reviewed a physical photo album? Good riddance…

2.) Candidate Name/Text in the Lower 3rd

Text is arguably one of the most important tools of an ad because it's a visual reinforcement of what’s being said. Just slapping it at the bottom of the screen in a little rectangle in some geriatric font is practically screaming to the viewer “Hey, you know how you hate political ads? Yeah, this is one of those, hurry up and get something from the fridge before the show comes back on!”

3.) The Newspaper Tear

I’ll admit, I’m guilty of using this crutch too much myself. Well no more. I plan to use this basic and overused visual tool as much as I read actual printed newspapers. Nada, zip, nilch.

4.) Obvious and bland stock footage

It’s hard to explain what is and isn’t bland stock footage, but you know it when you see it. There’s just a tackiness that takes you out of what you’re watching and reminds you that what you're seeing is produced, glossed and made solely for your consumption. That’s not to say stock shouldn’t be used, it can be vitally important. But viewers are savvy and can sniff out bad stock faster than you can say “we’ll just fix it in post.”

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