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Notre Dame research shows attack ads can work

by Ryan Famuliner
Publication: WNDU-TV

October 29, 2008


It seems like you can't make it through even one commercial break without seeing a political attack ad.

But as frustrating as it can be, a Notre Dame Professor says it's not a bad strategy.

Research done at Notre Dame during the 2004 presidential election showed that a small percentage of voters were affected by the negative ads.

That could mean a lot in this year's close presidential race, but many feel that they've gone too far.

“It’s an ugly practice, but I guess they feel like they have to do it,” said Erika Jackson, a voter who says she’s frustrated with the ads.

Notre Dame marketing professor Dr. Joe Urbany says campaigns have good reason to feel attack ads are a good idea.

“Negative advertising, in spite of the fact that we don’t like it, it still can shift opinion,” Dr. Urbany said.

In his research during the 2004 presidential election, 14% percent of those surveyed changed their minds about their favored candidate after watching negative ads.

“The negative is attention getting, it tends to generate more argumentation, and counter argumentation. Again people don’t like it as much, but they’re thinking about it,” Dr. Urbany said.

Some voters say it does get their attention.

“I listen to it and see if there’s a valid reason behind it, if there’s a valid reason for us to have negative issues. But I think it’s really just a bunch of mudslinging,” said Hedi Darnell, who says the ads don’t affect the way she will vote.

“I don’t like them because I don’t think that’s hitting the issues and what’s going on, especially the way the country’s going right now. It just doesn’t work for me,” said Dan Czerna, a voter who says he just ignores the negative ads.

Regardless of his research, Dr. Urbany wonders if it really isn't working for people this year.

“It's seemingly getting to a point where we’re all beginning to turn it off,” Dr. Urbany said.

During his research positive ads were more common, so the negative ads stood out.

This year negative ads seem to be the norm.

“It creates a new context. If everything is negative than the possibility exists that a positive ad is going to be more noticeable than a negative one,” Dr. Urbany said.

Urbany says he's interested in recent research that showed more than half of each of the presidential candidate'sTV advertisements are negative this year.

He also wonders if the ads can have a reverse effect, making supporters think less of their candidate because he's running negative ads.

A few of the voters WNDU spoke with felt that way. But they also say you can't fault one of the candidates more than the other this year, since they're pretty much trading blows. Some of the voters just see the ads as each candidate defending themselves.

Most of the voters echoed the same idea, that they’d rather see advertisements based on the candidate’s strengths and issues; to be able to make decisions based on that information. But Dr. Urbany agrees that’s been tough to do with this year’s advertising.

“The negative advertising has gotten in the way of people trying to make those kinds of judgments. There’s very little information about the candidate when all you’re doing is criticizing the other guy. There’s very little information about how you plan to lead, and also the nature of the leadership qualities of the candidate that’s advertising,” Dr. Urbany said.

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