Ad Review: A Weak Effort from Joe Biden

17 Aug 2020  

Last week I reviewed one of Donald Trump’s recent ads. I thought it was a pretty effective attack on Joe Biden with a clear message and benefit. You can read my review here.

This week, I am looking at a recent spot from Joe Biden.

A COVID-19 Plan

This new spot, called Real Plans, is focused on Biden’s strategy for fighting COVID-19. It includes a series of actions including more testing, more protective equipment for healthcare workers, and a national mask mandate.

The ad is very focused on the specifics of the plan. It harkens back to Elizabeth Warren’s campaign and her catchphrase, “I’ve got a plan for that.”

A Big Miss

This is not an effective spot.

The main problem is that there are lots of specifics in the ad, but no compelling benefit.

The most unique point that really stands out to me is the idea of a national mask mandate. Now a national mask mandate may well be a good idea, but Joe Biden is not going to win the election by talking about a national mask mandate.

A mask mandate is not a benefit. Wearing a mask is not a pleasant thing. I do it frequently but I don’t really enjoy it. It certainly isn’t a winning platform. If anything, Biden’s mask mandate simply gives people an easy reason not to vote for Biden. If you don’t want to wear a mask -and many people don’t- then vote for Trump.

Joe Biden needs to focus relentlessly on benefits. Many people don’t care about character, or philosophy, or experience. They care about benefits. They want to know: How will all this impact my life?

Reframing the Spot

Let’s flip this ad around. Instead of talking about a mask mandate, why not say, “Under Trump’s leadership we have closed schools, canceled concerts, rescheduled weddings, lonely funerals.
With Joe Biden in charge, you will be able to get back to doing the things you want to do. You can see your friends again. Hug your mother again. Kids will be able to learn in school with their friends.”

Now that’s a benefit.

We can make it more direct: “With Donald Trump, there is no Big 10 Football. No college championship. Just the crushed dreams of student athletes missing their chance for glory. Joe Biden has a plan that will control the virus and bring back football. We will get our college students back on the field.”

Now some may argue that Biden can’t really promise that things will work out quite so well and we will have football, concerts, and weddings. I completely disagree. Biden can certainly make the case that with Trump there is no Big 10 college football and Joe Biden will bring it back. Exactly when, well, that is a specific detail that he doesn’t need to discuss.

Biden’s Task

Joe Biden needs to focus on benefits. This shouldn’t be too hard; things aren’t going so well right now in the United States, so there are a lot of opportunities.

If Biden gets bogged down in specifics – a mask mandate, higher taxes, police funding proposals – he gives Trump the opportunity to own the high order benefit.

With the convention at hand, this would be a very good time to dial things up.

1 Response

  1. Ken Templin says:

    Professor: I get the need to change the message to focus on benefits. However, the example you use suggests Biden’s approach to tackle the virus would allow the economy to open up. Biden, Trump or anyone else can’t make that statement with any assurance. Regardless of what approach is used, the virus is clearly in charge.

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