Lesson Idea: Election Campaign Ads

Overview

Teachers can use this opportunity to teach the Propaganda Techniques commonly used in campaign attack ads by candidates and incumbents running for office in a way that will engage students’ technological and creative interests. The seven common propaganda techniques and brief descriptions of each are as follows:

·         Transfer – Using popular symbols to create a positive connection between that image and the candidate. It can also be used to connect a negative image to the opponent to create a negative connotation.

·         Glittering generalities – Uses very vague language that seeks to create an overall positive effect on the viewer to appeal to a variety of their interests.

·         Testimonial – Support or endorsement from a well-known public figure or celebrity.

·         Mudslinging – Much like how it sounds, this technique is used to cast the opponent in an unflattering way. Name-calling, accusations, and groundless assertions are common when this technique is applied. 

·         Bandwagon – Conveying a sense of momentum that the candidate featured in this type of advertisement is winning is the epitome of the bandwagon ad. The message of this ad is that the viewer should cast support to the candidate because they are successful.

·         Card-stacking – This type of ad uses one-sided data to present a conclusion to the viewer that flatters a candidate and/or hurts the opponent. Omissions of information about the data that are needed to draw informed conclusions are not uncommon with this type of ad.

·         Plain folks – When a candidate creates a likeness of himself to the homespun, down-to-earth, hard-working average voter, they are practicing this style of propaganda technique.
Objective
·         Students will research and identify key details and create a recorded ad that either attacks the opponent or flatters the candidate
·         Students will identify the ways in which the candidates influence voters both positively and negatively through television campaign ads
Materials
·         Computer with internet access
·         Projector or smart board to stream videos
·         Campaign Attack Ad handout (.PDF)
·         Ad Premiere Score Sheet handout (.PDF)
 
Vocabulary

·         Propaganda
·         Endorsement
·         Media
·         Transfer
·         Glittering generalities
·         Testimonial
·         Mudslinging
·         Bandwagon
·         Card-stacking
·         Plain folks

Procedure
1.        Assign students one propaganda technique and one candidate (Barack Obama or Mitt Romney). 
2.       Each student will create an ad that either launches an attack on the opposing candidate (using the Transfer, Testimonial, Mudslinging, Bandwagon, or Card-stacking techniques) or flatters their candidate (Glittering Generalities, Testimonial, or Plain folks). The ad should employ all the characteristics of the propaganda technique assigned.
3.       Have students research the candidates’ backgrounds, records, and positions on issues using the C-SPAN Video Library
4.      Students will create 30-second spot ads using Moviemaker, iMovie, www.WeVideo.com, or other video editing program. The ad should be emailed to the teacher attaching the video ad as a viewable file, emailed with a link to the video, or posted to an online video hosting site, such as www.YouTube.com.
5.       Play each video to the class and have the students judge which candidate the video was created by and which technique was used. Reveal the answers at the end so students can see if their video accurately projected their assigned propaganda technique. 
6.      Consider awarding bonus points to the most creative ad, the ad that launched the most aggressive attack on the opponent, and the videos that are the best for their propaganda technique (i.e. Best example of Transfer, Bandwagon, Mudslinging, etc.)    
Extension Activity
1.        Consider extending this lesson to one on public opinion of campaign advertisements. Engage students in a post-lesson discussion by asking them how many of the student ads were positive? How many were negative? What impact did the positive ads have on you? What impact did the negative ads have? Which style do you think is a more effective campaign strategy for the candidates to adopt? Why?
Watch the C-SPAN video on the 2012 Presidential Ad Campaigns from the Brookings Institution and have your class deliberate on its merits. 
2.       Two key topics that could set up a Socratic discussion to conclude this lesson are the increasing costs to run a formidable presidential campaign, especially for paid television advertisements, and the complexities of campaign financing.  Consider asking your students to research the costs President Obama and Governor Romney’s campaigns must pay to shoot, edit, and air a 30-second commercial during prime time hours before the November election.