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Ralph Begleiter, left, Valerie Biden Owens and Joe Slade White discuss political advertising.
2:51 p.m., Oct. 20, 2011--A University of Delaware National Agenda
speaker series audience got a behind the scenes look at political
advertising from some of the most successful professionals in the field
during a presentation Wednesday evening, Oct. 19, in Mitchell Hall.
The award-winning Joe Slade White and Valerie Biden Owens, a UD
alumna and the sister of Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr., also a Blue
Hen, discussed key principles and best practices for successful media
campaigns in a presentation titled "Selling the Candidates."
White is the founder of Joe Slade White and Company and Biden Owens is executive vice president of the media consulting firm.
Among the principles discussed were:
• Timing is everything.
• Break the code.
• Connect through emotion.
• Tell stories.
• Keep things simple because 30 seconds is plenty of time to do a lot.
• Research to find the emotional details.
• Find the trigger points that will weigh on an opponent.
• Anticipate how the opponent might attack.
White and Biden Owens showed clips of successful ads and discussed
how the themes were devised, with White explaining that every campaign
is a riddle that must be solved and that each has its own unique code
that must be cracked.
"I love riddles," White said, because "if you think about the answer
to the riddle, you will never get it." The key, he said, is to think in a
The riddle solved, a powerful way to create an effective ad is to tell a story, White said, as they showed Kitchen,
a 2008 ad that sought to remind Delaware voters that they could vote
twice for Biden, whose name appeared on local ballots in both the U.S.
Senate race and the presidential race on the ticket with President
Kitchen showed a train moving along the tracks, telling voters
in a subtle way that Biden is a family man who commuted to and from
Washington, D.C., throughout his Senate career while also addressing the
many pressing issues facing common Americans, whose houses the train
"Joe Biden has a remarkable story," White said, and "I'm a story teller."
"Believe me," Biden Owens added to laughter from the audience as the clip ended, "it hasn't been easy raising an older brother."
The next video shown was Solution, an ad created for Texas
financier T. Boone Pickens to make the nation look more seriously at the
problems associated with massive imports of foreign oil and the need
for new energy solutions. It featured searing images of oil wells on
fire offset by wind turbines, and was an ad that hit the mark because
"it got politicians scrambling," White said.
Biden Owens said such effective ads do not happen by chance. The firm
does extensive research and studies poll data thoroughly in devising a
plan of action, then White "translates the strategy, emotionally, onto
The purpose of their ads, she said, "is to make the uninterested interested."
The best political ads, White said, are those that strike a
responsive chord with voters, who then become advocates for the
candidate or the specific campaign.
"People don't like political ads," White said, and people
particularly don't like negative ads that attack an individual's
character. "Political ads don't work. They assault you, they tell you
that you're wrong, they tell you what to think."
His philosophy is to tell a story that will make voters think and in
turn to "try to make the voter the messenger" for a particular point of
Biden Owens said that in the case of a Michigan ballot initiative on
stem cell research, the firm "took a principle and turned it into a
person." The face of those in favor of stem cell research in the ad
titled Cure Michigan was a young cheerleader who had been injured severely and held hope that such research would assist her in her own life.
It is important, they said, that an ad present facts to the voter in
such a way that it does not alienate those people it is trying to
Move this whole section up, swapping places with the section above it.
Valerie Biden Owens discusses political advertising during Wednesday's National Agenda presentation.
During the question and answer session following the presentation,
Biden Owens -- who has steered all of her brother's U.S. Senate and
presidential campaigns -- was asked if she had ever been involved in a
campaign in which there were no negative ads.
Biden Owens cited the 1972 campaign in which the 29-year-old Biden
unseated veteran Republican U.S. Sen. Caleb Boggs. "It was a fierce
campaign, but there was not one negative word," she said.
She added that because of their youth and inexperience, it was a
campaign in which the Bidens "had to think outside the box because we
didn't know what the box was."
With an ad featuring Vice President Joseph R. Biden, Jr., on the screen, Joe Slade White discusses his work.
2011 National Agenda speaker series, sponsored by the Center for
Political Communication, is titled "Girding for Battle: Political Movers
and Shakers at the University of Delaware."
National Agenda lectures are held at 7:30 p.m., Wednesdays,
continuing through Nov. 16. Lectures are held in Mitchell Hall and
moderated by Ralph Begleiter, director of the Center for Political Communication.
The series will continue Nov. 2, with political watchdog Melanie
Sloan, and will conclude Nov. 16, with New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie,
also a UD alumnus.
Article by Neil Thomas
Photos by Duane Perry