Lesson Plan: Election Campaign Ads

History of Political Advertising

Patrick Meirick talked about the history of political advertising as well as its role and significance in the 2016 campaign. Advertisements from the current and past campaigns were included.


Use this lesson to introduce your students to the techniques commonly used in campaign ads by candidates and incumbents running for office. In this lesson, students will research and identify key details and create a recorded ad that either attacks the opponent or flatters the candidate, and they will identify the ways in which candidates influence voters both positively and negatively through televised campaign ads.



    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.
  • Materials

  • STEP 1.

    Assign students one propaganda technique and one candidate (i.e. Donald Trump/Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama/Mitt Romney).

  • STEP 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.

  • STEP 3.

    Have students research their candidates’ backgrounds, records, and positions on issues using video programming from the C-SPAN Video Library.

  • STEP 4.

    Students will create 30-second spot ads using Moviemaker, iMovie, WeVideo.com, or another 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 YouTube.

  • STEP 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.

  • STEP 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

    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 following video clip and have your class deliberate on its merits.

    VIDEO CLIP: History of Political Advertising (7:31) Patrick Meirick talked about the history of political advertising as well as its role and significance in the 2016 campaign. Advertisements from recent and past campaigns were included.

    Alternatively, 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 Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton’s campaigns paid to shoot, edit, and air a 30-second commercial during prime time hours in the lead-up to the November election.

Additional Resources


  • Bandwagon
  • Card-stacking
  • Endorsement
  • Glittering Generalities
  • Media
  • Mudslinging
  • Plain Folks
  • Propaganda
  • Testimonial
  • Transfer


Campaigns & ElectionsMediaPolitical Parties


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