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Political TV Advertisements as a Part of Political Marketing in U.S. Elections

A qualitative analysis of Donald Trump's closing advertisement "Trump's argument for America" and a subsequent comparison to Hillary Clinton's closing advertisement "Tomorrow"

Hausarbeit (Hauptseminar) 2017 21 Seiten

Amerikanistik - Kultur und Landeskunde


Table of Contents

1. Introduction

2. Campaign ads and the importance of the closing ad
2.1. The professionalization of Campaigning: Political Marketing
2.2. The Effect of Political Advertisements on TV
2.3. The Nature of Political Television Advertisements
2.4. The Importance of the Closing Advertisement

3. Theoretical instruments for the analysis of both closing ads

4. Analysis of the Closing Campaign Ads of Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton
4.1. Analysis of Trump’s Closing Campaign Ad
4.2. Comparison to Hillary Clinton’s Closing Campaign Ad “Tomorrow”

5. Conclusion


1. Introduction

There is no other country apart from the United States of America in which campaigning takes such a large part of the election process. Political debates on television, public speeches of the candidates, advertisements on the internet and TV – it all starts many months before the actual election and millions of US-$ are spent. Once the final candidate for the Democratic and the Republican Party is elected, about five months before the election, the election campaign features those two candidates only. Already due to their party affiliation their political opinions differ, which mostly results in an intense campaign. This was also the case in the previous election in 2016 in which the final candidates – Hillary Clinton for the Democratic Party and Donald Trump for the Republican Party – could not be more different. Trump, the clearly underestimated candidate, who first surprised the world as he won the primaries, landed an even bigger surprise when he was elected as president. His language and appearance polarized throughout the campaign and the question arose, how he managed to persuade almost the majority of the American citizens.

This term paper focuses on political TV ads as a part of political marketing and more specifically on the final pitch of Trump and Clinton to their potential voters, in other words their last aired TV advertisements.[1] In the first two chapters the theoretical framework is provided. At first political marketing, the significance and different kinds of TV ads and the closing ad in particular, are explained. Afterwards the theoretical criteria for the analysis of the closing ads are presented, e.g. the AIDA model, the concept of political framing and the rhetorical political analysis. In the main part Trump’s closing ad is analyzed in detail and is compared to Clinton’s final ad afterwards, whereas Clinton’s analysis is not a separate chapter but the basis for the comparison. Do those findings reveal clues which suggest that Trumps political ads, in that case his closing ad, were more effective than Clintons political commercials? And if so, what made his closing argument more effective than Clinton’s? Eventually the findings are summarized and evaluated in the conclusion and ideas for further research are given.

2. Campaign ads and the importance of the closing ad

2.1. The professionalization of Campaigning: Political Marketing

The U.S. Election can easily be assigned with superlatives, not only does it have one of the most complex election systems, but also it can be considered as the one with the most emotional and hardest fought campaigns. Furthermore, it is not alone the intensity of campaigning which differentiates U.S. campaigns from most other countries in the world. It is also the length of the campaigning process, even so it appears that there are no exact regulations, which set a definite time frame for it.[2] The New York Times e.g. states that the campaigning already starts two years before the election.[3] Still the common ground on most studies is the agreement, that the peak of campaigning can be narrowed down to the last 60 pre-election days.

Overall campaigning plays a major part in the American presidential election process. Due to its importance of the campaigning process the Theory on Professionalization on Political Communication is mentionable, since political communication itself has increased in recent years, due to the rise of media and “the decrease of party loyalty”.[4] That is why it became necessary for politicians to use a professionalized strategic communication, which went hand in hand with the recruiting of public relation and communication specialists or analysts. Additionally, the term political marketing was coined to describe the act of electioneering, seeing the electorates as consumers to be persuaded and the citizens to be illuminated.[5] That also led to a change of the candidate’s rhetoric and performance, since an appearance on TV needs to fulfil different requirements than radio interviews or public speeches. Having a closer look at the concept of political marketing is worth it, since a different marketing model will later be used to analyze the closing ads of Clinton and Trump. Marketing itself describes “[…] the aim […] to plant in the consumer’s mind a desire to purchase the said product as something that will be of use to him, and to determine in advance, if possible, certain product features as they may relate to a consumer’s needs.”[6] This definition of marketing can be applied for political marketing in an adapted form. An election, especially a presidential one, is, compared to the purchase of a material product, an abstract concept. For the voter, the chance to elect a president may not be of substantial use, since it is nothing tangible. According to that the aspect of unpredictability plays a major part in political marketing, since “opinion polls, for example, do not provide any information as reliable as sales statistics for commercial marketing […] and political events are quite unpredictable, whereas consumer behavior is generally easier to anticipate”[7].

2.2. The Effect of Political Advertisements on TV

The largest amount of election campaign finances is invested in political commercials. Since the existence of political advertisements on TV, there was only one candidate running for president, who did not have any commercial aired. He lost the election, and no following politician would deprive himself of political advertisement.[8] Although the effectiveness of political televised commercial still is a discussed controversially. Ansolabehere and Iyengar state that “30-second spots […] [are] superficial, deceptive and increasingly nasty”[9]. In contrast to that they also quote, that “[…] citizens find advertising to be more informative than newspapers and TV programs”[10]. Another study, realized by McClure & Patterson in 1976 stated, that “public does indeed extract considerable substantive information from televised spots. And finally, voters do not have to be perfectly informed to make a reasoned choice”[11]. According to Shaw campaigns have an impact on mobilizing and persuading the voter and he made a point, by stating that labeling those effects as minor or major is a subjective process.[12]

One could argue that the findings of the quoted publication are not relevant anymore, since the mass media evolved enormously in the last fifteen years. However, The New York Times titled in 2015 “Online Political Ads Have Been Slow to Catch On as TV Reigns”[13] and both final candidates of the 2016 election spent the highest campaign expenses on political TV advertisements.[14] So the effectiveness of political commercial matters indeed. Unlike Ansolabehere and Iyengar, Maarek argues that “brief political commercials have a great advantage over longer paid broadcasts: they do not allow enough time for the viewer’s attention to lapse, nor, of course, to flip to another channel.”[15] Thereby he endorses the reasonableness of Clinton’s and Trump’s financial campaign strategy. Another supporting argument is provided by a study conducted by the American National Election Studies (ANES) from 2016, which aimed at collecting data on the participant’s media consumption. Thus, more than 85% of the people stated to watch TV news programs. Strikingly this percentage is a lot higher than that of newspaper consumers (51%) or radio users (54%). A possible surprise might be that it even exceeds the amount of internet usage (62%).[16] Therefore the importance of televised political commercials in general can clearly be underlined. But it certainly is to be kept in mind that TV ads are not only featured on TV, but also shared on the internet on frequently used platforms such as YouTube or on the candidates’ websites. On the one hand, the finding, that both of those mentioned types of media are the two most consumed, distinctly increases the probability of people watching political TV ads. On the other hand, it makes it almost impossible to draw inferences concerning the amount of people who watched the spot. And therefore, adds to the level of unpredictability of political marketing. But even so television and internet are clearly considered as mass media, they contain targeting possibilities. Namely commercials can be aired on TV in between shows with a particular audience, and commercials, made for TV but also published on the internet, can be applied according to cookies and other personal settings.

Still it cannot be said with complete certainty, that even if a political commercial reaches its audience, it fulfills its purpose of persuading the voter. But there are studies, focusing on content and tone of political television commercials, which allow to draw conclusions on the effectiveness of political TV commercials.

2.3. The Nature of Political Television Advertisements

It is hard to make general statements for the genre of television advertisements, since they greatly differ in length, content, tone and context. The length of the commercials varies from 30-second spots to three-minute-commercials. During the research for that paper no information on the effect regarding the length of political commercials could be found. That is different concerning the content of political TV commercials.

According to Ansolabehere and Iyengar, political commercials can either be classified as issue or image spots. Issue advertisements are the so-called hard selling spots, since they “stick with the facts, just the facts”[17]. It is typical for that type of advertisements, that the audience is directly addressed by the candidate, who outlines e.g. his career or policy positions. Sometimes only the candidates voice is heard and striking pictures are shown, but in general pictures and music fade into the background. The aim of conveying information about what the candidate will do when elected, is in the focus.[18]

The contrary part comprises the image advertisements. They are referred to as soft selling spots, due to their focus on the audience’s emotional side. In this kind of political advertisement, more private aspects are shown, he is not necessarily depicted as a politician but may be surrounded by his family. Furthermore, music and picture play an important part, since the music underlines or dramatizes the content of the advertisements and shocking or spectacular pictures are shown.[19] In contrast to the issue ads, image ads do not fulfill the purpose to enlighten the potential voter, but rather aim at making “the viewer feel good about politicians or bad about the opponent”[20].

It is not possible to link effectiveness more to one kind than the other. Since the persuasiveness of an ad is not only dependent on the content itself, but also on the credibility of a candidate. The commercial itself can create credibility by authentically depicting the candidate as a good representative or leader. Furthermore, the commercial can tackle certain issues according to what the candidate’s party is known for.[21] With that it could build up on the so-called party credibility and associated party loyalty. Another way to persuade independent voters especially, is, to share perceptions of objective circumstances e.g. peace or the economy.[22]

As mentioned before, a political commercial cannot only illustrate the best sides of the candidate, whose campaign manager commissioned the ad, but can also put down the candidate’s opponent. That sort of ad, whose tone is negative regarding the other candidate is referred to as an attack ad or a negative ad. It can be both an issue or an image commercial, but is more likely to be the latter. More than fifteen years ago it was announced that negative ads are on the rise[23]. Now a days they are still common. And according to Torres et. al negative ads attract the voter despite their negativity. The authors think that the media climate in the U.S. might be an explanation for that, because commercials than need to be attention-grabbing, which negative ads often are.[24] It once was assumed that negative ads had a rather deterrent effect on the voter, but studies show, that there is a rather stimulating effect, e.g. regarding the voter turnout.[25] They stimulate by “engaging voters, by raising interests, and by communicating the notion that something important is at stake in the outcome of the election.”[26]

The content and the tone of both commercials will be analyzed in the fourth chapter, and a try will be made to detect whether the commercials fit more into the concept of image or issue spots and if they can be considered as attack ads. A similarity of both ads, which adds to the level of comparability is the time they were aired at. Since both are the final arguments of the candidates, the next chapter deals with the peculiarity of the closing ad.

2.4. The Importance of the Closing Advertisement

The closing ad symbolizes the candidate’s last chance to raise a final pitch to the voters, to give their final argument. In general timing is an important aspect in campaigning. The notion is out there, that voters make up their mind early in the race, but according to Shaw this is not a statement to be generalized.[27] He rather expressed that campaigning reaches its peak in the last two weeks before the election, because that is the time to persuade less informed and more independent voters.[28] In this term paper, the focus is drawn to the closing ad which can be understood as the candidate’s final argument aired on TV. This does not necessarily mean, that the closing ad needs to air the day before the election. By implication the closing ad might not be the last thing the voters hear or see from their candidates, since they can give final arguments in a speech even until the last day before the election.[29] Nevertheless “the closing argument aims to package the campaign’s policies and positions into a message designed to appeal to voters in the final days before the election.”[30]

During the research on the specifics of closing ads, it was striking that the topic was rarely covered in literature. The only information, which allowed inferences, addressed the timing of campaign ads. All in all it is to say, that the following ads were picked, because closing ads are of special importance since those are the last ads aired before an election, and to make a reasonable decision for two advertisements out of more than almost a million ads.[31]

3. Theoretical instruments for the analysis of both closing ads

As mentioned before, the two final TV advertisements of Clinton and Trump will be analyzed in the next chapter. This analysis follows selected criteria to enable a comparison of both commercials afterwards.

At first the content will be summarized, followed by an analysis of the candidate’s language. This includes a breakdown of the speaker’s rhetoric, involving ethos, pathos and logos. From that pragma-linguistic approach the focus is then shifted to a more detailed, syntactic-linguistic approach: The speaker’s language will be analyzed according to the concept of Political Framing. At last the marketing model AIDA (Awareness – Interest – Desire – Action) will be considered, to see whether it can be applied for the chosen political commercials. Each of the named criteria will be explained briefly in the following paragraphs.

Rhetorical political analysis (RPA) is a term coined by Finlayson, who describes it as a method to examine arguments made in political speeches[32], or in that case political commercials, and to study “the methods for justifying the positions that political elites advance.”[33] By means of those findings the appeal will then be classified. The types of a candidate’s appeal do not differ from the non-political ones: Ethos is concerned with the character of the speaker and his credibility. This can be ensured with the help of external reference or demonstration of authority. Logos by contrast denotes the logic of arguments and the persuasion by facts. Finally, pathos describes the use of emotions, which are invoked or exploited in the audience.[34]

In contrast to the RPA, Political Framing focuses not on the overall appeal of the candidate’s language, but on single sentences or words. The basis of Political Framing is the knowledge, that people comprehend language over frames, since every word is integrated in a frame, which is often metaphorical, and connoted in a certain way.[35] So Political Framing itself is then, to make use of that concept, e.g. to create such connoted frames via language, e.g the German word Flüchtlingswelle: The neutral message behind that word is the arrival of refugees in a foreign country. Since the word Welle opens up a frame which involves associations like something is hit by a wave or tsunami, the newly created word Flüchtlingswelle awakens rather negative feelings, e.g. feelings of fear or helplessness, at the audience.[36]


[1] Donald Trump: “Trump’s Argument for America”- Hillary Clinton: “Tomorrow” -

[2] cf. Kurtzleben, D. (2015/10/21). National Public Radio. Canada Reminds Us That American Elections Are Much Longer:

[3] cf. Parlapiano, A. (2015/04/16). The New York Times. How Presidential Campaigns Became Two-Year Marathons:

[4] Johansson, S. (2017). May I Interest You in a Freshly Brewed Presidential Candidate? An Analysis of Presidential Campaign Television Advertisements in the United States, 1952 - 2016. Jönköping: Jönköping University. 11.

[5] cf. ibid. 12.

[6] Maarek, P. J. (2011). Campaign Communication and Political Marketing. Oxford: Blackwell Publishing. 34.

[7] ibid. 35.

[8] cf. ibid. 130.

[9] Ansolabehere, S., & Iyengar, S. (2000). The Craft of Political Advertising: A Progress Report. In D. A. Graber, Media Power in Politics (S. 152-161). Chicago: CQ Press. 152.

[10] ibid. 152.

[11] McClure, R., & Patterson, T. (1976). Print vs. N etwork News. Journal of Communication, 23-28.

[12] cf. Shaw, D. R. (1999). The Effect of TV Ads and Candidate Appearances on Statewide Presidential Votes, 1988-96. American Political Science Review. 348)

[13] Willis, D. (2015/01/29). Online Political Ads Have Been Slow to Catch On as TV Reigns. The New York Times:

[14] Associated Press Washington. (2016/12/09). Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton's Final Campaign Expenses Revealed. The Guardian:

[15] Maarek, 135.

[16] American National Election Studies. (2016/02/23). User's Guide and Codebook for the ANES 2016 Pilot Study.

[17] Ansolabehere & Iyengar, 154.

[18] cf. ibid.

[19] cf. ibid.

[20] Ansolabehere & Iyengar, 147.

[21] cf. ibid. 155

[22] cf. Shaw, 348.

[23] Ansolabehere & Iyengar, 156.

[24] cf. Torres, I., Hyman, M., & Hamilton, J. (2012/07/01). Candidate-sponsored TV ads for the 2004 US presidential election: A content analysis. . Journal of Political Marketing, 193.

[25] cf. Goldstein, K., & Freedman, P. (2002/08/03). Campaign Advertising and Voter Turnout: New Evidence for a Stimulation Effect. The Journal of Politics. Vol.64., 722.

[26] ibid. 735.

[27] cf. Shaw, 354.

[28] cf. ibid.347.

[29] cf. Borman, D., Jordahl, A., Nelson, C., & Styrsky, C. (December 2016). Ballotpedia. The Encyclopedia of American Politics.

[30] Ibid.

[31] cf. Massoglia, A. (2016/11/4). Open Secrets. Center for Responsive Politics. Feeling ad fatigue? More than 3.3 million ads have run in the 2016 elections.

[32] cf. Finlayson, A. (2007/11/01). From Beliefs to Arguments: Interpretive Methodology and Rhetorical Political Analysis. The British Journal of Politics and International Relations. Vol.9(4)., 555.

[33] Johansson, 13.

[34] cf. ibid.

[35] cf. Wehling, Politisches Framing. Wie eine Nation sich ihr Denken einredet - und daraus Politik macht. 2016, 42.

[36] cf. Wehling, 42.


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Trump Clinton Closing ad Campaigning U.S. Election 2016




Titel: Political TV Advertisements as a Part of Political Marketing in U.S. Elections