Both presidential campaigns have invested pretty heavily in television ads for the Olympics, with Obama reportedly spending $5 million, and McCain $6
August 14, 2008

Both presidential campaigns have invested pretty heavily in television ads for the Olympics, with Obama reportedly spending $5 million, and McCain $6 million. Given reports on high ratings for this year’s games, it’s probably money well spent — a lot of folks will see the commercials.

But it strikes me as interesting how the competing campaigns are going about communicating with this particular audience. Here’s the new Obama campaign spot, the second to run during the Olympics.

It’s a simple, straightforward, positive spot on the economy. There’s not much to dislike. Indeed, it’s reminiscent of the Obama campaign’s first Olympic ad, which was another positive commercial about energy policy and the economy.

The McCain campaign is trying something very different.

Here’s McCain’s spot for the Olympics: “Is the biggest celebrity in the world ready to help your family?” the voice-over asks. “The real Obama promises higher taxes, more government spending. So, fewer jobs.”
The attacks on Obama are patently false, and McCain’s claims about energy policy are equally deceptive, but there’s another question to be considered: who goes negative during the Olympics? MSNBC’s First Read reported:

[L]ike good NBC-Universal employees, we spent much of the weekend watching the Olympics. And during the commercial breaks, we saw plenty of those Obama-is-the-biggest-celebrity-in-world TV ads hitting the presumptive Democratic nominee. But almost every other TV ad we saw — whether it was from Audi, Coke, or the now foreign-owned Anheuser-Busch — was positive and upbeat. Just asking: Are McCain’s ads tonally off for the Olympics? They stuck out because they were darker than every other ad. The good news: The ads stuck out. The bad news: The ads stuck out. It’s a gamble. The message will get across, as all messages from constant negative TV ads do. But will McCain’s own favorable ratings pay a price as well?

People can and will debate the strategic merit behind misleading, negative attack ads in a presidential campaign. But I can’t help but wonder if there’s something unique about the Olympics, and the expectations of the viewing public.

Or, put another way, who goes negative during the Olympics?

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