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Political Ad Review: Biden and Dogs – The Election’s Defining Ad

17 Oct , 2020  

Every once in a while you come across a piece of advertising that somehow perfectly fits the moment. These usually aren’t the most rational ads, or the most entertaining.

For George Bush, it was Ashley’s Story, a simple yet remarkable spot that somehow made sense of an entire election. Why vote for George Bush? Because he will keep us safe.

The Shifting Debate

This year, the election has been a wild ride. In the summer, it seemed that Donald Trump was poised to win in November by focusing on law and order and reminding everyone that Joe Biden would raise taxes.

Recently, those arguments have lost resonance. The looting seems years ago, and protests have faded away. Even Portland isn’t getting much attention. Are people still protesting in Portland?

The virus then shifted the discussion, with Trump’s infection reminding everyone just how out of control the pandemic really is. If Donald Trump isn’t safe, well, who is?

Now, however, Trump is back on the campaign trail and looking none the worse for the experience, so his infection is fading as a top of mind issue.

The Dog Question

Which brings us to an ad about dogs.

The gentle, sweet spot, released recently by a group called Dog Lovers for Joe, shows former presidents with their dogs. There is Ronald Regan with Lucky, George Bush with Millie, Bill Clinton with Buddy and George W. Bush with Barney. You can watch the spot here.

The ad then notes: “Trump is the first president without a dog in over a century.” Instead, the spot shows Donald Trump mocking dog owners, “How would I look walking a dog on the White House lawn?”

At the end of the ad, there is a photo of Joe Biden and his dog Champ.

Why It Works

I suspect few people are going to pick a president based on dog ownership. There are lot of other important issues to consider and think about, especially this year.

But this simple spot communicates so much more. It points out that Donald Trump is not like other presidents. Every other president had a dog. Not Trump. He is not normal. Of course, Trump breaks the mold in so many ways. He is sarcastic and rude. His personal style is completely different from other leaders.

The ad also indirectly suggests that Trumps lacks the kindness that comes from caring for dogs. He doesn’t understand why people like dogs. He doesn’t appreciate loyalty. He can’t return affection. He lacks basic empathy.

When we look back at the election and the likely Biden victory, I suspect we will point to this spot as the one that most elegantly and effectively defined the choice. At a time when the world is a dangerous, uncertain and dark place, perhaps the one thing people can agree on is that we need a president that has a dog.


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  • Emita Hill { Sobering but all accurate. Happy Thanksgiving, Tim. }
  • Mark Goldman { Disagree wholeheartedly. National unity and bringing back civility to our country is most certainly a benefit -- and a strong one. Trump's pitch on law... }
  • Lisa { Tom Elmer you clearly need to put glasses on. The Democrat Governors were hired to keep citizens safe. President Trump handles federal. The Governors failed... }
  • Paulo Machado { Very good, Tim. You have been of great help and inspiration for me. Regards from Brazil. }
  • emitahill { Sounds like a great job. Your students are lucky to have you. }
  • Bhavish { Hi Professor, Great analysis. I have always thought that attack ads are not enough. It is very important for voters to see why Biden is... }
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