College Republicans Unveil 'Say Yes to the Dress' Ad Campaign

Playing off the reality TV show, the ads compare gubernatorial candidates to wedding dresses. Critics call the campaign a failed attempt to connect with female voters.
by Paul W. Taylor | October 3, 2014 AT 2:00 PM

The College Republican National Committee (CRNC) launched its most ambitious foray into gubernatorial politics to date with a 16-state million dollar digital ad campaign this week with ads that play off TLC’s bridal reality show, Say Yes to the Dress.

In the knock-off, Say Yes to the Candidate compares candidates to wedding dresses, with the Republicans characterized as a “trusted brand.” True to the show that inspired the ads, the bride-to-be’s mother comes across as an overbearing, out of touch, overtly liberal Democrat with a taste for “expensive and outdated” dresses … err, candidates.

All but identical ads have been released for Florida, Michigan, Pennsylvania, Colorado, Florida and Arkansas -- only the candidates’ names have been changed, along with the complaints about the opponents.

Alex Smith, who chairs the CRNC, told the Wall Street Journal, "It's our goal to start the conversation by presenting ourselves in a culturally relevant way."  Critics were quick to claim it failed on tests of relevancy to women in general, whom the GOP has been working to attract after notable defeats during the last presidential cycle, and young women specifically, who research indicates may not see marriage as a universal experience.

Detroit Free Press columnist Nancy Kaffer was incredulous at the comparison of candidates to wedding dresses -- “Because that's how ladies understand politics,” she wrote sardonically, “That may not make sense to you. It may seem reductionist, surreal, maybe even absurd. That's because you haven't seen this ad.”

Amanda Marcotte at Slate had seen the ads: “It's hard not to wonder if the people being hired to do outreach to women on behalf of Republican candidates aren't all a bunch of Democratic moles.”

Writing in the Huffington Post, Atima Omara, president of the Young Democrats of America, concluded this of the ads and the people who made them: "They are just tone deaf and sexist.”

Bloomberg View columnist Jonathan Bernstein writes that the people who made them may be too young to remember the last time the GOP took such an approach to multi state ads in 1980 -- only to have  them ridiculed by the Democrats during the 1982 cycle.  This time around, the reaction will be on Internet time. “It's a classic example of the way elections are conducted in the U.S.,” writes Bernstein, “Candidates' campaign organizations are seemingly in charge, but decentralized party and quasi-party organizations step in and help -- or embarrass -- them.”

Decide for yourself by watching the six released to date.


The closest to a viral hit among the first half dozen, “Say Yes to Rick Scott” attracted just over 108,000 views in its first 24 hours of release.  In a race characterized as a toss-up in a Governing analysis by Lou Jacobson, the ad criticizes current Democratic rival Charlie Crist for increases in taxes, debt and college tuition during his time as the (Republican) governor of the state from 2007 to 2011.


In another Toss Up race, “Say Yes to Rick Snyder” provides unsolicited support for the incumbent Republican government. With 37,000 views in its first 24 hours, the ad takes issue at opponent Mark Schaer's positions on taxes, employment and government spending.


In a race handicapped as likely Democrat, “Say Yes to Tom Corbett” takes aim at Tom Wolf over increased taxes and unemployment.  It garnered just less than 22,000 views in its first day online.


Yet to get to traction in a Republican leaning race, the 5,200 view “Say Yes to Bruce Rauner” ad criticizes incumbent Democratic Governor Pat Quinn over unemployment, education cuts and income tax rates.


With a modest 5,100 views, “Say Yes to Bob Beauprez” comes alongside the challenger in a toss-up race with incumbent Governor John Hickenlooper, and chides him for a bad economy, declining education standards and increased taxes.


“Say Yes to Asa Hutchinson” brings the dress formula to the toss-up race to succeed Governor Mike Beebe.  With only 4,500 in its 24 hours, the ad takes issue with rival Mike Ross’ position on taxes, debt and government spending.

The College Republicans are expected to roll out additional ads for Iowa, Louisiana, North Carolina, Kentucky, Ohio, Wisconsin and Connecticut in the coming week.