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Many Statewide Campaign Ads Focus On Candidates Rather Than Specific Issues

Ohio voters are being bombarded by campaign commercials. 

Statehouse correspondent Andy Chow breaks down the ad strategies  how this year’s commercials depict an unusual set of campaigns.

This year, we’ve seen some negative ads…

NATS: “What’s John Kasich’s way? Tax breaks for the rich and corporations while raising taxes on seniors and the middle class.”

And a lot of positive ads…

NATS: “John Patrick Carney puts you and the people of Ohio first.”

We’ve heard those catchy slogans…

NATS: “Yo Yost. Yo Yost. Yo Yost. Bark bark.”

And—especially this year—more ads focusing on candidates’ children.

NATS: “How do we know so much about Mike DeWine? He’s our dad.”


NATS: “She’s Connie Pillich, she’ running for treasurer and we’re proud she’s our mom.”


NATS: “But all she knows about Josh Mandel is that he’s her dad.”

Dr. Rao Unnava  is a professor of marketing with Ohio State University. He says to understand a campaign spot—or really any advertising message—you need to go back to the beginning.

Unnava: “So what you tend to do is you do market research through a lot of resources that you put into it. Find out what are the hot button issue that they’re thinking about—what they would like to hear from you as what you would like to do for them and then create campaigns based on those kinds of themes.”

Unnava says incorporating children into ads is an emotional strategy that tries to connect to the everyday voter.

Unnava: “There’s always a worry in politicians’ minds that they’re out of touch—or at least they’re being perceived as out of touch. And to avoid that they try to humanize their campaigns that ‘I’m more like you. I have a family. I have children. And so I see the issues that you’re seeing and I can actually respond to them.”

So what about the slogans? The spot for Republican Auditor Dave Yost that you heard earlier repeats the phrase “Yo Yost.” Democrat David Pepper is running for attorney general—his campaign signs and fliers say “Just Add Pepper.”

This is Unnava’s specialty. He focuses on consumer memory—or in this case—voter memory. He says these slogans are especially important for down ticket races.

Unnava: “So when they go to the voting booth—they look at all the names and if they don’t recall who’s whom—they don’t know who to vote for. One way by which we can enhance the memory is by coming up with these slogans or some symbolism that creates in people’s minds a lasting memory as to what the candidate is about.”

The ads featuring children and slogans are known as “soft spots”—messages that don’t tackle any specific issues but rather focus on the candidate.

Longtime conservative strategist Neil Clark says this is the time voters start seeing more hard-hitting messages but candidates seem to be sticking to these soft ads.

Clark: “Usually at this stage of the game you wouldn’t be seeing a lot of those spots. But it is a unique campaign cycle in which the Democrats really aren’t putting forth an aggressive campaign for most of these offices, so as a result there is really no need to mention your opponent.”

In the past five gubernatorial elections—dating back to 1994—the lowest voter turnout was 47%. The highest was 57%. Clark says a good way of judging the effectiveness of this year’s campaign ad strategies is to see how this year’s voter turnout compares to past numbers.

The Statehouse News Bureau was founded in 1980 to provide educational, comprehensive coverage of legislation, elections, issues and other activities surrounding the Statehouse to Ohio's public radio and television stations. To this day, the Bureau remains the only broadcast outlet dedicated to in-depth coverage of state government news and topics of statewide interest. The Bureau is funded througheTech Ohio, and is managed by ideastream. The reporters at the Bureau follow the concerns of the citizens and voters of Ohio, as well as the actions of the Governor, the Ohio General Assembly, the Ohio Supreme Court, and other elected officials. We strive to cover statehouse news, government issues, Ohio politics, and concerns of business, culture and the arts with balance and fairness, and work to present diverse voices and points of view from the Statehouse and throughout Ohio. The three award-winning journalists at the bureau have more than 60 combined years of radio and television experience. They can be heard on National Public Radio and are regular contributors to Morning Edition, All Things Considered and Marketplace. Every weekday, the Statehouse News Bureau produces in-depth news reports forOhio's public radio stations. Those stories are also available on this website, either on the front page or in our archives. Weekly, the Statehouse News Bureau produces a television show from our studios in the Statehouse. The State of Ohio is an unique blend of news, interviews, talk and analysis, and is broadcast on Ohio's public television stations. The Statehouse News Bureau also produces special programming throughout the year, including the Governor's annual State of the State address to the Ohio General Assembly and a five-part year-end review.