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How to Approve That Political Message (Video)

“I approved this message.”  

The words comprising the legal disclaimer — “I’m Candidate X, and I approve this message” — are the bane of political ad-makers and congressional campaigns. But they’re required to include it in every political spot, thanks to a decade-old campaign finance law provision  intended to discourage  nasty campaign advertising.  

“The challenge is you’re dealing with such a limited amount of real estate, 30 seconds,” said Eric Adelstein, a media consultant for Democrats. “People try to be creative in how to incorporate mandatory language into that messaging.”  

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Typically, campaigns tack the disclaimer to the beginning or end of an ad. That gets it out of the way, but the problem is viewers don’t often understand why the candidate is approving his or her own message.  

“I’ve been in enough focus groups that when you play an ad, … they laugh” at the disclaimer, Adelstein said.  

He said focus group participants react with comments like, “Duh. Why do you have to tell me that, idiot politician?”  

“Voters don’t get it,” he said. “They think it’s stupid.”  

So ad-makers get more creative, attempting to fit the approval into the spot’s overall message. Typically, this means adding a “because” clause to emphasize the commercial’s original point.  

“People are trying to make the best of a bad situation,” said Scott Howell, a Republican media consultant. “It’s cumbersome and clumsy. What we’re trying to do is make it less clumsy.”  

The alternative is to put the disclaimer into the kicker — a tactic usually deployed in positive spots featuring a family member.  

Howell compared it to a post-credits scene called “the stinger” at the end of Marvel Comic movies. It serves as a payoff for the viewer — a reward for sticking through the spot to the very end. (Perhaps the most famous stinger was in 1986’s Ferris Bueller’s Day Off.)  

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And then, there is this ad, from Democrat Patrick Henry Hays, a House candidate in Arkansas. He manages to work in both a circle-back and a coda.  

In the first two seconds, he introduces himself, getting the line “I’m Patrick Henry Hays” out of the way. 
At 25 seconds, he throws in “… and that’s why I approved this message.” And then, to tag it, he throws in his coda.  

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