Image advertisements have a long standing in our political history, basically tracing back to the invention of the television. Research has proven that voters often choose candidates based on personality, instead of policy.
In this 2016 advertisement produced by Hillary For America, it is almost obvious to conclude the type of image the candidate wants to promote for herself.
As a media and communication scholar, I see so much more than, “She’s trying to be nice.” In Trent, Friedenberg, and Denton’s work, Political Campaign Communication, the authors provide lists of strategies that candidates will use to their advantage to successfully achieve the office through their political campaign.
Taking a look at this particular ad, we can quickly identify some personality characteristics as produced by the candidate. She is sitting in a chair speaking directly to the viewer. She is not in her usual harsh pant-suit, but a casual, softer button-down. She wants the viewers to know, she is like us.
By looking the viewer directly in the eye, she increases her trustworthiness, because we know it is usually more difficult to look someone in the eye and tell them a lie. (As a communication scholar, I know this is not essentially true, but in the case of the general public, most people believe it to be true.)
Analyzing this ad deeper, textbook strategies are used throughout. The first being the symbolic use of power and legitimacy. The flashback photos of Hillary in leadership roles creates the image of her as a leader. Working with Congress to achieve healthcare for millions of kids, walking out of the rubble of 9/11, and sitting at the table during the discussion of Russia’s nuclear arms. These are photos chosen to provide the image that Hillary has been there before and has led the country to better times much like a future president can.
Hillary has taken on this hybrid of candidacy styles, running as both the incumbent and as the challenger. The incumbent in this case is not that she held this particular office before, but that she had held an important office before, Secretary of State. This ad produces images during her time of Secretary of State, emphasizing her accomplishments in the position.
Obviously, she is running as a challenger against Donald Trump. She uses textbook tactics in the ads to promote her own image. First off, she attacks Donald Trump in the opening lines of the ad, “Donald Trump says he alone can fix the problems we face. Well, I don’t believe that’s how we get things done in our country.” She doesn’t want the viewers to think of her as stepping down to Trump’s level by using personal attacks, so she provides her own positive performance.
She also mentions Democrats and Republicans working together to get things done. This is an attack on Trump as well as the entire Republican party, who has split because of Trump’s candidacy. Clinton is reminding the viewers of her motto here, stronger together. Our nation will only move forward if we work together on issues instead of having intra-party conflict.
This ad does a good job at emphasizing optimism for the future. The music is optimistic and lifts the viewer up. Near the end, the camera returns to Clinton and she says, “We’ve got to bring people together, that’s how you solve problems, and that’s what I’ll do as president.” Again here, she is providing this leadership image, that she will be the woman that reduces the political polarization our country.
Overall, this ad takes the offensive on Clinton’s image. Most of the time she is regarded as fake, harsh, and untrustworthy. This ad attempts to flip these expectations, by making her appear softer, trustworthy, and providing factual accounts (photos) of the accomplishments she has made as a person in power.
Whether voters will be influenced by this image ad will depend on their attitudes and beliefs toward Clinton already, but for undecided voters, this ad could prove to be very beneficial for the candidate in providing a positive image.