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Sarah Silverman’s video, Let My People Vote, raises awareness about strict voter ID laws.

Presidential elections have been a spawning ground for some iconic ads. But in the maelstrom of election advertising, spots such as Morning in America for Ronald Reagan or Daisy for Lyndon Johnson are the exception, not the rule. Writing in trade publication Ad Age this week, one Washington advertising executive explained why her firm won't take a political account – calling election ads "hectoring, polemic dreck."

We sought out some voices from Canadian ad-land for exceptions in this campaign cycle: Each executive chose one ad for each side that worked.

Franke Rodriguez

Partner and president, Anomaly Canada



Barack Obama's message of hope has gotten old. Four years down the road, the President has a record to defend, and a massively challenging economic climate to address. Mr. Rodriguez, a U.S. expat living in Toronto, believes too many ads rely on a tired negative approach.

"It directly speaks to what should matter: President Obama's results," he says. "… The ad ends strong with a humble and honest admission – 'we're not there yet, it's still too hard for too many, but we're coming back' – which is a nice finish instead of the usual over-promise."


Olympics/Restore Our Future

This ad, paid for by a third-party action committee, also uses a rare positive tone. Olympic athletes talk about how Mitt Romney managed the Salt Lake City Olympics. This speaks to his strengths, but also helps him to look more sympathetic.

"[It] is a fantastic endorsement of his leadership and approach," he says. "And it was very smart to have the well-known, respected athletes who are speaking about Romney represent important voter segments like women and people of colour."

Brent Choi

Chief Creative Officer, Cundari


Sarah Silverman's Let my people vote (Note: Video contains profanity.)

The comedienne, who uses a cutie-pie voice and sweet manner to get away with blatant profanity and shock humour, is doing get-out-the-vote marketing once again. Her 2008 video encouraged young Jewish voters to convince their grandparents in the swing state of Florida to vote for Obama. She raises awareness about strict voter ID laws.

"While this video may be a little bizarre, perhaps even offensive, it's rooted in great targeting and strategy … [among] the millions of people who can't vote that would vote for Obama," Mr. Choi says. "… This is the different one. It's something that is being talked about for sure."


A vacancy on the talk-show circuit

As opposed to choosing an ad, he points to the marketing strategy of limiting Mr. Romney's TV talk-show appearances. While Mr. Obama has recently visited The View, Leno, Letterman, Jimmy Fallon and The Daily Show, Mr. Romney has been much more cautious. Mr. Choi says this caution may work in his favour.

"Sometimes the best communication is to not communicate in the mediums that will hurt you. Mr. Obama is dynamic and charismatic in the talk-show settings. Mr. Romney not so much," he says.

Arthur Fleischman

Partner and president, John St.


Who Will Do More?

Mr. Fleischmann, who grew up in the Boston area, chose two ads that look at the same issue – and target the swing state of Ohio. Chrysler Group LLC chief executive officer Sergio Marchionne spoke out against this ad, saying that its suggestion Jeep production would be moved to China is false. But that does not mean it will not have an impact.

"Sadly, I think it is effective," he says. "A fairly large segment of the population will remember a powerful sound byte like 'Obama shifted jobs to China.' … Romney's strategy is and always has been to come up with the most powerful lies that can feed into America's fears. His vision is of a Hunger Games world of the haves and have-nots."


Made in Ohio

This Obama campaign ad attacks Mitt Romney for an op-ed he wrote in 2008, entitled Let Detroit Go Bankrupt. By latching on to something Mr. Romney actually said, this ad takes a much straighter approach, Mr. Fleischmann says.

"If one party is taking a horribly negative tack, can the other party take an entirely different tack and rise above the fray? I think Obama is – sort of – trying to do that … His message is accurate, and I appreciate that," he said. "… I don't think his advertising looks as different as it could."

Jonathan Daly
Strategist, Lowe Roche Advertising


Trick or Treat

Mr. Daly believes the most interesting campaign advertising is actually taking place at the local level, not the presidential – because ads are taking more risks and actually look different. He chose ads in two different congressional races in New York districts. This spot, paid for by super political action committee the Congressional Leadership Fund, uses animation to claim that Democratic congresswoman Kathy Hochul "tricked" voters with her tax promises.

"It was timed for Halloween, so people would remember it. And it looked different from everything that every other campaign is doing. So it stands out from the typical headlines blaring against black backgrounds, those formats," he said.



The ads from Nate Shinagawa are not the typical local fare – while Mr. Daly believes these races allow for more risk-taking in advertising, they also tend to look more low-rent, with a car-dealership feel to many of the spots. This ad stands out for its rich production values, with black-and-white shots of voters' faces and a sweeping feel to his narrative of middle-class values.

"He really leveraged the look and feel from some of Obama's early ads. He came up with a sweeping narrative," Mr. Daly said. "I thought it worked because it was really rare. … Because it was emotive, and had that kind of call to arms rhetoric, it was effective."

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