Expect the best negative ads this election cycle to take risks early, two media consultants said at C&E's Art of Political Campaigning conference this week.
"I think the ads this cycle are going to make the people paying for them and the people approving them, and the people producing them a little bit uncomfortable, and I say that because we don't have much of a choice," said Rob Aho, a partner at the Republican firm Brabender Cox. "In every cycle you feel, at least on our side of the aisle, more and more pressure to be unique—to do something maybe a little risky and a little early to change the game."
In 2012, that pressure is ratcheted up even more, Aho argued. The likely result is that the toughest negatives will hit in August and September—by October, it'll be a shootout on the airwaves.
Aho spoke alongside Democratic media consultant Dane Strother to close the three-day conference. Both strategists said they expect this year’s negative spots to have a different feel than old-school negatives.
"Our research has taught us that if you use ominous music, if you use half-shades of grey, if you have an ominous announcer, and you use a chainsaw instead of a scalpel, voters don't believe it," said Strother. "Their B.S. meter flies up and they roll their eyes."
Instead, expect ads that pass what Aho calls the "iPad test"—tough but fair spots that won't have their accuracy quickly disproven by a viewer on an iPad. They'll be negative, but funny and convey emotion by doing away with traditional elements like the voiceover.
Advertisers are exploring new mediums, too. Expect more ads on mobile devices in 2012—a trend sure to cemented by next cycle.
"This cycle we're putting ads here some," Strother said, pointing to his smartphone. "Next cycle we're going to be all over your phone."