Remember when I showed you the most comically, absurdly offensive negative campaign ad ever, and wondered how the heck anyone ever thought it was at all coherent, let alone a good idea? Well, it turns out that it wasn’t. Janice Hahn, the Democrat being targeted by the video for her alleged softness on crime, evil red eyes, and terrifying booty-shaking, won her special election by a decent margin, and is now a California Congresswoman. Congrats, lady!
What does this tell us about viral negative campaign ads that try to denigrate opponents by comparing them to strippers? Well, according to Alexandra Petri of the Washington Post, it shows that the people making them have completely misjudged their audience.
The Internet only appears to consist of everyone. Sure, most people’s mothers are on it these days. But it still skews younger. And those teens on their smartphones sexting and passing your viral video around also skew more liberal. Some term it the Bastion of People Most Easily Offended By Everything. Put another way, it is precisely the demographic least likely to appreciate an ad portraying Janice Hahn as a stripper surrounded by stereotypical felons.
The older you get and the more likely you are to say things at parties that your grandchildren will regard as horribly racist, the less likely you are to be active on the Internet, except to check AOL periodically for emails that you can print out and read aloud to your golf group. 20 percent of people 74 and older and 44 percent of people 65-73 have no home broadband Internet access. It’s a digital divide.
So by making an ad like this, Ehlinger guaranteed that the people most likely to see it would be exactly the people most likely to feel that it was an affront to all their sensibilities.
I would also add that for whatever reason, young people tend to like strippers more than old people do. So if you try to bring sex workers into your negative campaign video, which a disproportionate number of young people will see on the Youtubes, some of those otherwise apathetic young folk will get offended on behalf of their sparkly, naked friends and tear themselves away from their Xboxes long enough to vote for the other candidate. (Of course, there could be many other factors at play, but it’s certainly an interesting correlation and theory.) Sex worker blog Tits and Sass points out that the same tactic failed for Philadelphia mayoral candidate John Featherman, opponents of Republican John Morley (who ran for township council in New Jersey and won), and opponents of Democrat Michael Arcuri (who won a New York congressional seat).
What’s the takeaway here? Don’t bring sex workers into your negative campaign ads, unless you are placing them somewhere only old people will see them, like Reader’s Digest or the back of a can of prunes. Or do, but know that you will lose, and also, bloggers will mock you.