The 7 Most Memorable Ads of 2016

Some presidential and down-ballot spots left powerful impressions.

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Kimberly Railey
Dec. 21, 2016, 8 p.m.

Don­ald Trump’s re­sound­ing vic­tory des­pite an un­con­ven­tion­al me­dia strategy may have sowed doubts about the ef­fect­ive­ness of TV ads. But in a cycle known for its volat­il­ity and harsh rhet­or­ic, a num­ber of cam­paign ad­vert­ise­ments up and down the bal­lot left last­ing im­pres­sions—be­cause they were either mov­ing, zany, or simply unique.

Here, in no ranked or­der and based solely on what stood out to us among the hun­dreds of spots we saw, is Hot­line’s list of the most mem­or­able ads of 2016:

Travis County Commissioner: “Please Reelect Gerald ... Please”

The spot por­trays Re­pub­lic­an Ger­ald Daugh­erty as an ob­sessed policy wonk while his wife la­ments to the cam­era that he “doesn’t have any hob­bies.” The ad shows the Trav­is County, Texas com­mis­sion­er per­form­ing house­hold chores, eat­ing din­ner, and grilling steak as he rattles off stat­ist­ics and county code in­form­a­tion to dis­in­ter­ested listen­ers. The spot nev­er once men­tions his polit­ic­al party, clos­ing with a plea from his wife: “Please reelect Ger­ald. Please.” He nar­rowly won reelec­tion.

Bernie Sanders: “America”

Set to the tune of Si­mon and Gar­funkel’s “Amer­ica,” the com­mer­cial spins through im­ages of rur­al land­scapes, happy fam­il­ies, and packed Sanders ral­lies. The spot, re­leased shortly be­fore the Iowa caucuses, drew praise for its hope­ful vis­ion amid a bit­ter cam­paign. Clin­ton com­mu­nic­a­tions dir­ect­or Jen­nifer Palmieri said in an email later re­leased by WikiLeaks that it made her cry the first time she watched it. After some crit­ics noted it fea­tured mostly white people, the Sanders cam­paign re­cut the ad with a more di­verse cast, fo­cused this time on scenes of New York.

Missouri Senate: “Background Checks”

This spot of Demo­crat Jason Kander as­sem­bling an as­sault rifle blind­folded was hailed as one of the top cam­paign ads this cycle. As he speaks, he ex­pertly clicks dif­fer­ent parts of the rifle in­to place, while dis­cuss­ing his sup­port for back­ground checks. The spot fur­ther fueled the nar­rat­ive that Re­pub­lic­an Sen. Roy Blunt was a Wash­ing­ton in­sider, as it played up Kander’s mil­it­ary cre­den­tials. The Demo­crat came with­in 3 points of un­seat­ing Blunt, even as Trump car­ried Mis­souri by 19 points.

Nebraska-02: “Everybody Loves Bacon”

In his race against Demo­crat­ic Rep. Brad Ash­ford of Neb­raska, re­tired Brig. Gen. Don Ba­con re­leased play­ful ads that made light of his last name. The Re­pub­lic­an boasts that “every­body loves ba­con” in two spots, strolling through a gro­cery store in one of them as cus­tom­ers stock­pile the meat product. An­oth­er com­mer­cial shows him in a diner where pat­rons are ex­clus­ively eat­ing the food. Ba­con wound up oust­ing Ash­ford, the cycle’s only Demo­crat­ic in­cum­bent to lose to a Re­pub­lic­an.

Wisconsin Senate: “Grace”

The en­tirely pos­it­ive spot re­coun­ted how Re­pub­lic­an Sen. Ron John­son aided a fam­ily’s ef­fort to ad­opt a child, Grace, from the Demo­crat­ic Re­pub­lic of Congo. In the ad, a moth­er and fath­er ex­plain how 25 kids in Grace’s cir­cum­stance died as they hoped to join their new fam­il­ies. The spot, aimed at wo­men, boos­ted John­son’s sup­port from that con­stitu­ency by 16 points in a Google brand-lift sur­vey. The in­cum­bent went on to win reelec­tion in the most sur­pris­ing Sen­ate up­set of the cycle.

Hillary Clinton: “Mirrors”

The spot fea­tures Trump as the nar­rat­or, mak­ing in­sult­ing and pro­voc­at­ive com­ments about wo­men as ad­oles­cent girls eval­u­ate them­selves in the mir­ror. The ad plays some of his most de­mean­ing re­marks, in­clud­ing, “I’d look her right in that fat ugly face of hers,” and, “A per­son who is flat-ches­ted is very hard to be a 10.” The spot ends with a warn­ing: “Is this the pres­id­ent we want for our daugh­ters?”

Ilinois-10: “Independent Leader”

This Na­tion­al Re­pub­lic­an Con­gres­sion­al Com­mit­tee ad to boost Re­pub­lic­an Rep. Robert Dold was the first and only one from the or­gan­iz­a­tion that fea­tured anti-Trump mes­saging. The spot praised Dold for stand­ing up to Trump, who was highly un­pop­u­lar in his well-edu­cated and af­flu­ent dis­trict. The Demo­crat­ic swing of his seat in a pres­id­en­tial year ul­ti­mately proved too dif­fi­cult for Dold to over­come, trig­ger­ing a 4-point de­feat against his three-time foe, former Rep. Brad Schneider.

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