The general election has begun! And so has the onslaught of campaign ads. Which ones succeed? Which fail? In Ad Watch, we review them as they come out. Today: Karl Rove's group makes a joke about President Obama's lame new slogan, a Vermont gubernatorial candidate makes a joke about a 1984 classic ad, and Mitt Romney saves a teen.

The Ad: American Crossroads, "Backward"

The Issues: Karl Rove's mocks the Obama campaign's new slogan, "Forward," saying he hasn't moved that direction on the economy. 

The Message: All that's moving forward under Obama, the ad says, is the national debt, while goods are more expensive and unemployment is still high. The ad emphasizes this by playing generic clips of kids and professionals backwards.

Who It's For: Reporters. The concept and title are clever, but the ad doesn't really deliver. It's the same old style: unhappy male narrator says things are bad while statistics and quotes from newspaper stories flash across the screen. This ad isn't for people who watch it at home, but for people who see the title on its YouTube page and press release.

What Everyone Else Thinks: "Oh, look at the cute kid in a cowboy hat… yawn, and now it's time to refill my soda…"

The Effect: It depends on whose attention you think is most important. It gets a B+ for the clever attention-grabbing title but a D for the execution.


The Ad: Randy Brock, candidate for Vermont governor, "Bears"

The Issues: Vermont Gov. Pete Schumlin was chased (barefoot!) by four bears last month when he was trying to change his backyard bird feeder. He told the local newspaper he was almost eaten. "Is there are bears in the woods, why can't Gov. Schumlin see any of them? Isn't it smart to look out for bears, since there are bears?"

The Message: Schumlin is clueless about what's going on around him.

Who It's For: Nerds. The ad is a twist on a classic Ronald Reagan ad from the 1984 election called "The Bear in the Woods," Politico's James Hohmann explains. It's possible the young voters are also being targeted: though the ad uses a traditional male narrator, it uses the jokey, intentionally awkward language that is popular on the Internets.

What Everyone Else Thinks: What are these people talking about?

The Effect: Schumlin looks silly, but so does his opponent. But people (like us!) will talk about it, and, unlike 2010 Senate candidate Carly Fiorina's infamous "Demon Sheep" ad, it's not so crazy that people question the seriousness of the candidate. B+


The Ad: Restore Our Future, "Saved"

The Issues: Mitt Romney's character

The Message: Romney is a nice guy who'll do anything for his friends and innocent children. When the 14-year-old daughter of Romney's co-worker disappeared in New York City for three days, Romney set up a command center to help find her. 

Who It's For: Of all the ads aired by the pro-Romney Super PAC during the Republican primary, this is the one it's keeping for the general election. Restore Our Future will spend $4.3 million to run ads in nine swing states, Politico's Alexander Burns reports. Burns calls it "the kind of commercial you'd run if you want to nurse your candidate's favorability rating back to health." During the primary in New Hampshire, Romney's campaign found he was especially popular with women, who liked seeing images of him with his family. 

What Everyone Else Thinks: Ahh, teenagers.

The Effect: It makes Romney seem like he's both nice and competent. But it would have been better to swap out the generic images of New York for a photo of Romney smiling with the kid. B


The Ad: Mitt Romney, "Broken Promises: Jobs and the Economy"

The Issues: Jobs and the economy, plus the gap between what Obama promised in 2008 and what he's been able to accomplish in office.

The Message: It appears Romney is running a whole series of "Broken Promises," which follow the same format: a clip of a nice Obama speech in 2008, followed by depressing statistics on the state of the economy on a background of angry-looking clouds.

Who It's For: People who are concerned about the economy, which is almost everyone.

What Everyone Else Thinks: Oh, 2008 was fun, wasn't it?

The Effect: Though the contrast between what Obama said and what he did is good, the ad is asking viewers to do a lot of reading (it even spells out numbers, New Yorker-style!). People watch TV so they can hear stories without doing the work of reading things. And if you get up to make a snack during the commercial, all you'll hear is the happy Obama section. C