Researchers weigh in on what makes attack ads effective

NOW: Researchers weigh in on what makes attack ads effective

WISCONSIN (CBS 58) -- Now that the April election is over, many Wisconsinites will breathe a sigh of relief that the wave of negative political ads on television and social media is now receding.

Research suggests negative ads are getting nastier, University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee Professor Emeritus Mordecai Lee agrees.

"The kind of TV ads we are seeing with the rhetoric, I mean it just keeps getting worse and worse," Lee said.

Let's be real, nobody *likes* negative ads, and researchers like Beth Fossen say that is often the whole point.

"People get frustrated, they don't turn out, and that favors some candidates more than others," she said.

Fossen helped create digital and TV political ads as a campaign strategist, now she studies these ads as a professor at Indiana University. She says going negative still works.

"If you are speaking to your tribe, then negativity really works," Fossen said.

One trend that continued during this spring election, Fossen said, is attack ads that focus on character as opposed to a professional history or voting record. Fossen also says some catchphrases have been in fashion this spring.

"Extreme and extremism are really big ones right now," she said. "On the conservative side, they are loving the use of 'woke.'"

Some video effects are consistent through election cycles. They are meant to make you unsettled or give you a bad feeling.

"Using black, high-scale, intense high-contrast imagery," Fossen said.

But if all the attacks start to look the same to viewers, there is a good reason for that.

"The candidates have probably figured out what works and they're repeating those elements over and over again," Fossen said.

Armed with the knowledge Fossen gave us, we tried our hand at an attack ad. Our tongue-in-cheek target: CBS 58 Anchor Mike Strehlow. You can watch the fake ad in the video above.

In many ways, our fake ad is no falser than some of the actual attack ads that have aired recently.

Fossen says she does not see an end to negative ads, but as people get more informed as to how they play to viewers' emotions, she does see them becoming less effective.

"When we can be informed of how people are trying to influence us, that gives us power and control," Fossen said. "Viewers do have a say rather than just an initial emotional reaction in how I let (an attack ad) influence me."

Share this article: