Business, Community & Government

The Campaign Message

David Axelrod and Karl Rove

Lesson time 15:50 min

Using effective ads from past successful campaigns, David and Karl teach you the different types of messages you can create for your campaign, from biographical content to positive, comparative, and negative ads.

Students give MasterClass an average rating of 4.7 out of 5 stars

Topics include: Types of Messages • Establish Your Message With a Framing Spot • Negative Ads Aren’t New •Attack Wisely


There are several kinds of messages that you could use in your communications effort. There can be introductory or biographical that basically explain who you are and why you're running. There's positive advertising, advertising that says, here's what I want to achieve. Here's who I am. Here's what I want to do. There's comparative advertising. I stand for this. They stand for that. And then there's of course attack advertising, negative advertising, when you go after the record or the persona or the public statements of your opponent. Every campaign is a mix of these different messages. No campaign can be won by simply introducing the candidate or sharing their views. There's got to be at least some point at which you compare yourself with your opponent. But this is where campaigns get really in difficulty, because they do, in my opinion, too little of the definitional advertising, both biographical and explanation of what it is that they want to do. And when they start to do the comparative or the negative, they go over the line. This is really dangerous territory. For a comparison to be effective, it has to be considered to be important, relevant, and true. And if it doesn't hit those, it either fails as a message, or worse, provides an opportunity for a counterpunch. - I think what's important to impart to people, though, is these ads are not-- they don't exist in the abstract. They exist as part of a larger argument. And you want to think of your campaign as an argument. So what are the elements of that argument? What is it that people need to know? Often, bio ads are authenticators for people. I had a client whose father sold everything he owned to send his kid to college. And the kid found out later about it. When he did an education ad and imparted that, it was really impactful, because it had an emotional bight to it. So the bio ads are important. If you're running for a low level office, state rep or school board or city council, you're not going to have those kind of resources. And even within that context, some campaigns are going to be better funded than others. You have to decide what it is, what contrasts you want to draw. And you can create events, or stunts that might get attention for your campaign. You could hold a press conference outside of your opponent's campaign headquarters. You can also wait for breaking news events. I had a client years ago who was running for mayor of Cleveland. And he was one of the less resourced candidates. He literally drove around in a car listening to news radio. And when a story broke on one of the issues that he was campaigning on, whether it was crime or education or something, he would go and he would hold a press conference there. And he would call the press and say, I'm going to speak just to break into the news cycle. Now, with social media, you can create a viral moment just by creating some video with your cell phone. And if you...

About the Instructor

David Axelrod and Karl Rove reach across the aisle to offer an inside look at winning campaign strategies. The respective architects of Barack Obama’s and George W. Bush’s historic election victories teach how to develop a campaign platform and reach an audience with consistent messaging. Find the inspiration and tools to get involved at any level, or simply become a more informed, engaged citizen.

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David Axelrod and Karl Rove

Renowned presidential campaign strategists David Axelrod and Karl Rove reveal what goes into effective political strategy and messaging.

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