Minnesota may see different kind of marriage ads from 31 earlier states

‘The “Minnesota Marriage Minute” ads ... do not function as “ads” as much as helping people already in favor of the amendment to deepen their understanding of the issues.’

If there has been a consistent element to the 31 campaigns to ban same-sex marriage that have succeeded around the country in recent years it has been a late-in-the-game barrage of ads warning of dire consequences if gays and lesbians are allowed to wed.

The ads have proven reliably effective in prompting the typically very narrow band of voters who don’t have a firm opinion on the issue to vote to insert a ban into their state constitutions. In state after state, gay-rights supporters have struggled fruitlessly to combat the frightening messages.

To date, leaders of Minnesota’s vote-no campaign have been a little cagey when asked what might be different here. Supporters have been left hoping they have a hole card and simply aren’t willing to show it until fall, when the 11th-hour blitz of vote-yes commercials is expected.

Something, it seems, really might go differently here, both in terms of the message and the medium. Last week, Minnesotans United for All Families quietly rolled out its first two advertisements. The better of the two, a simple, elegant 30-second spot paid for by coalition member Project 515, drew high praise, as did the announcement that it will “air” online.

Minnesotans United for All Families adA new anti-amendment ad from Project 515 features couples describing how they met.

The spot features several couples and families, including two women, all juxtaposed before the same clean white field, describing how they met or how they knew the other was “the one.” The details vary a little, but the impression is all are essentially the same.

(The other ad features the same two women sitting in their living room talking about the meaning of marriage. It was cut from a longer video originally created for another purpose — Minnesotans United won’t say what, but early fundraising is probably a safe bet. It elicited a golf clap from several of MinnPost’s screeners.)

Targeting on the Internet

The 515 spot will appear over the next three months as part of a carefully constructed campaign that will use technology to put the ad before Minnesotans who are either likely supporters or who are very difficult for political campaigns to reach.

The ads will appear on news and other advertising supported websites, but can also be targeted to reach, say, rural voters who frequent traffic-construction update sites.

Once thought of as a sleepy backwater, the Internet is a great place for this type of campaign, said Chris Duffy, online video strategist with the public-affairs communications concern Goff Public. Because websites gather so much demographic information about visitors, advertisers can target incredibly specific niches.

TV ads, by contrast, are incredibly expensive. Advertisers are paying to blanket a geographic region in which they may be seeking to reach a few key types of voters.

More frustrating, given the one-two punch of the fragmentation caused by cable and the advent of the digital video recorder, fewer and fewer TV viewers actually watch ads anymore. Online, meanwhile, advertisers pay per “hit.”

“Online video is only going to become more prevalent,” said Duffy. “Any organization that seeks that out is doing the smart thing.”

Top channel for ads: YouTube

The premiere channel, in his opinion, is YouTube. It has 800 million unique visitors each month and a massive trough of information on viewers’ ages, where they live, past viewing habits, and so forth. Some of that viewing may be funny cat clips or a nephew’s first steps, but people are increasingly watching TV shows and movies online.

So what about the content? Think back, for a moment, to the 31 states where a particular set of messages has succeeded in reaching a by now well-defined slice of the electorate thought of as the “squishy middle.”

Typically 10-15 percent of voters, these undecideds may start campaign season with relatively neutral feelings on the topic — if they have thought about it at all. Many assume that allowing marriage between two men or two women will not have an impact on their own marriage.

It’s not hard to convince them to jettison this stance if gay marriage can be depicted as the cork in a bottle packed with societal ills. And so the vote-yes ads have warned that without a constitutional amendment a whole host of freedoms will be lost: Children will be indoctrinated into homosexuality in school and parents who object will be jailed, churches will be forced to conduct LGBT weddings, businesses will be sued and liberties ranging from freedom to worship to gun ownership will be threatened.  

Exposure creates acceptance

Vote-no campaigns typically resort to one of two tactics: Fact-checking these assertions in emotionally flat, logical ads or appealing to voters’ sense of fair play. These fail in part because exposure is what creates acceptance. Barack Obama’s statement that his opinion shifted in part because first daughters Sasha and Malia have playmates with stable, healthy same-sex parents is a perfect example.

The ad makes what social scientists call an “argument from parallel case,” or analogy, “to advance the perception that same sex couples are ‘just like us,’” said Ed Schiappa, chair of the University of Minnesota’s Communications Studies Department and an expert on the issue. “This is also well grounded in theory, in that studies show that if you see yourself as similar to gay people you are less likely to be prejudiced against them.”

The online videos the vote-yes campaign has been circulating for months rely on a different strategy, he said. Narrated dispassionately by former anchor Kalley Yanta, they imitate TV news’ sets and segments.

Deepening commitment

“The ‘Minnesota Marriage Minute’ ads, by contrast, are all much longer than a minute and hence do not function as ‘ads’ as much as helping people already in favor of the amendment to deepen their understanding of the issues and, hence, their commitment to the amendment,” Schiappa said.  “The ‘elaboration likelihood model of persuasion’ predicts that the more you think about the arguments for a particular issue, the more committed you become and the harder it is to change your mind.”

Kate Knutson is a professor of political science at Gustavus Adolphus College whose research has followed marriage-amendment campaigns. She noted that the videos the two sides have aired so far suggest the formula that has played out in other states—emotionally powerful anti-gay-marriage ads and tepid, logical vote-no ads—may get reversed here.

minnesota marriage minute screen shotThe pro-amendment ‘Marriage Minute’ ads make strong emotional appeals.

The new vote-no ad, “seems to be speaking directly to the idea that same-sex marriage destroys marriage,” she said. “They’re turning the argument on its head.”

Knutson found the spot emotionally compelling, too. “It’s a tug on the heartstrings,” she said. “It’s a reframing of that standard campaign message you’ve seen in other states.”

Does this mean Minnesotans will not be subject to a barrage of dramatic ads come September? Hardly. But it might mean that the shock-and-awe campaign, once under way, looks different from the first 31.

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Comments (25)

  1. Submitted by Mark Stromseth on 06/25/2012 - 09:34 am.


    For those of use who don’t watch or play golf, you should either explain the meaning of a “golf clap”, or stop using such terms. Plain English, not sports metaphors, is the preferred method of communication.

  2. Submitted by David Frenkel on 06/25/2012 - 10:51 am.

    waste of time and money

    These amendments are a waste of time and money. We have failing schools, Duluth is underwater and our state legislaure is more concerned about these types of issues.

  3. Submitted by Thomas Swift on 06/25/2012 - 11:23 am.

    Children will be indoctrinated into homosexuality in school…

    Fact check submitted without comment: outforequity.spps.org

    • Submitted by Pat Berg on 06/25/2012 - 02:51 pm.

      Without comment because there is nothing on that site that supports your outrageous assertion about children being “indoctrinated into homosexuality”.

      Furthermore, people are either born gay or they are not. You cannot MAKE someone gay. Therefore, it is impossible to “indoctrinate” someone into homosexuality.

    • Submitted by Alec Timmerman on 06/25/2012 - 09:16 pm.

      Pro-life? Not really.

      Roughly same size districts for Anoka Henepin and Saint Paul.

      Anoka Hennepin has epidemic suicides due to lack of support for all students.

      Saint Paul has zero suicides from bullying in the same exact time frame.

      Saving kids is about the only agenda of Out For Equity. Your true anti-life bullying is showing through.

  4. Submitted by Sara Fleets on 06/25/2012 - 02:07 pm.

    What ruins marriages?

    Divorce “ruins” marriages, not married partners of the same sex.

    I hope that those against the amendment will remember to mention that by saying NO, one is not saying that gay marriage is then immediately legal. It is just saying that it shouldn’t be in the MN Constitution.

    Making gay marriage legal is a whole other thing.

  5. Submitted by Ethan Roberts on 06/25/2012 - 02:45 pm.

    Honored to be in the Pro-Marriage Project 515 Spot

    Excellent coverage as always, Beth. As two of the ordinary Minnesotans featured in the Project 515 spot, my wife and I of almost 13 years were proud to do our part to stand-up for the right of everyone to marry. There are so many different reasons to Vote No, but for us we simply cannot understand how writing hurtful discrimination into our Minnesota Constitution will benefit anyone, while we know of the many ways that it will make life harder for our gay friends and family. For those thinking of voting yes, imagine if everyone in the State got to take a vote on YOUR marriage. How would you feel and would your marriage measure up?

  6. Submitted by Bill Gleason on 06/25/2012 - 08:29 pm.

    Excellent article

    but this situation continues to sadden me.

    As the ad in the main article puts it: Marriage for Minnesota – one man one woman.

    Why? Exactly.

    Same sex marriage is legal in many foreign countries including that den of iniquity, Canada. It is also legal in many states in the US including that other den of iniquity, Iowa. The world has not ended there nor have many of the dire consequences that are predicted currently. No one has married an animal or a car or any of the other ridiculous scenarios proposed by those who favor the so-called Marriage Amendment in Minnesota.

    Just why, exactly, do some folks feel that same sex marriage is some sort of threat to their heterosexual unions? Is it insecurity, meanness of spirit, or what?

    Look around at our mothers and fathers, sisters and brothers, sons and daughters. Soldiers, sailors, tinkers, tailors, rich men, poor men, beggar men, and thieves. All of these classes of people contain gay folks. And some of them are the best people we know.

    And of course for men we can substitute women. I was pleased to see that Seimone Augustus was one of the marshals for Pride on Sunday. She and her female partner will be married next year. I hope that some day another of the Lynx, and a lot of other Minnesota same sex couples, may be married in our state.

    Just vote no.

  7. Submitted by Neal Krasnoff on 06/25/2012 - 10:56 pm.

    End game for Minnesota United

    Minnesota United for All Families has a lawn sign that states “Vote No – Don’t Limit The Freedom To Marry”. That is a comprehensive statement, and it clearly asserts the position of Minnesota United that no limitations should be placed on marriage. It clearly indicates that Minnesota United seeks to repeal MN Stat. 517.02 and 517.03.

    • Submitted by Pat Berg on 06/26/2012 - 07:33 am.

      Don’t hurt yourself!

      Don’t hurt yourself sliding down that slippery slope!

      I hope you realize that a lawn sign is meant to have few enough words that a motorist zipping by at 30, 40 or 50 miles per hour will be able to pretty much read what it says within a moment or two. It’s a pretty simple concept. Kind of like a sound byte, but in writing.

      As for the rest of your statement: A lawn sign does not a cite make. If you want to present support for your claim, you need a lot more than eight words writ large and pounded into someone’s front yard.

      • Submitted by Neal Krasnoff on 06/26/2012 - 10:26 am.

        The sign clearly states a belief

        and that is exactly what the signs produced by Minnesota United For All Families says, in plain, understandable English. They placed the words upon their signs, they approved the words, and it is legitimate to cite the phrase as the belief of Minnesota United For All Families.

        • Submitted by Pat Berg on 06/26/2012 - 11:33 am.

          No . . . .

          YOU are clearly stating YOUR *interpretation* of what the sign says.

          If you want to start talking about what the “belief” of Minnesota United is, then you go find cites where either they have stated their beliefs outright, or something like an article that is extensive enough that a reasonable person could make extrapolations from it.

          But I’m sorry. A handful of words on a lawn sign doesn’t even come close.

          • Submitted by Neal Krasnoff on 06/26/2012 - 01:12 pm.

            No deconstruction here.

            The words written by Minnesota United is in clear plain English. It is an objective fact they approve of such belief else they would have not allowed it to be printed and used as a representation of their beliefs. Their statement is clear: Minnesota United believes there should be no limitations on marriage.

            • Submitted by Pat Berg on 06/26/2012 - 12:47 pm.

              Pure nonsense

              No support. I dismiss your claim. End of this part of the discussion until and unless you bring more to the table.

      • Submitted by Steve Rose on 06/29/2012 - 01:54 pm.

        What about the B of LGBT?

        How would a marriage of two parties satisfy someone who is bisexual? It seems it would not; it seems that it would require a minimum of three. I am talking about three or more consenting adults in a committed relationship. Shame on you if you disapprove of this polygamous marriage. What do you care; it doesn’t affect your marriage?

        • Submitted by Pat Berg on 07/01/2012 - 08:06 am.

          Keeping rides kid-safe

          Before climbing onto that slippery slope, please make sure Neal has stepped out of the way. We don’t want you running into him and hurting yourself!

          • Submitted by Steve Rose on 07/02/2012 - 07:33 am.

            A YES Vote Keeps MN off of the Slippery Slope


            The slippery slope will always be there; stepping on it or not is a choice. Every argument
            offered for two people of the same gender marrying stands for a bisexual Minnesotan marrying two other people. Thanks for correctly identifying the slippery slope.

            • Submitted by Pat Berg on 07/02/2012 - 10:42 am.


              All your previous comment shows is complete ignorance of what it means to be bisexual.

              A bisexual is simply a person whose “pool” of people they may be attracted to includes people of both genders rather than one. All it means is that the “pool” of people from whom they may find the person they fall in love with is broader than is the “pool” of people considered by a heterosexual (only those of opposite sex) or the “pool” of people considered by a gay person (only those of the same sex).

              It doesn’t mean they need to be married to “one of each”. It just means that the person they ultimately decide is the one for them may be male or may be female.

              And that’s ALL it means.

              All other claims represent the slippery slope, and your comment is nothing short of gratuitously alarmist.

              • Submitted by Steve Rose on 07/02/2012 - 12:00 pm.

                How is the Pool?


                It seems that some bisexuals disagree with your narrow description; it does not seem to be quite so simple.


                What would your objection be to three or more people marrying?

                • Submitted by Pat Berg on 07/02/2012 - 01:01 pm.

                  Sorry – it’s not there

                  There is nothing on that page that says in effect “A person who is bisexual will insist on being able to marry one of each.”

                  The only thing even remotely related I found was “They may be monogamous or abstinent or may have multiple sexual partners, just like heterosexual and lesbian and gay people.” That is so far from “A person who is bisexual will insist on being able to marry one of each” as to be laughable.

                  You are trying to change the subject – a tactic which is as disreputable as is the gratuitous fear-mongering of the slippery slope. The subject you are attempting to pivot to is not a part of the discussion around the proposed marriage amendment, and that is all that needs to be said on the matter.

                  Spin your tales for someone else.

                  • Submitted by Steve Rose on 07/02/2012 - 02:08 pm.

                    I Sense Intolerance in Your Tone

                    We don’t all think like you nor share your beliefs. You can be OK with that, or show your disrespect for diversity. If you don’t care to suffer my “complete ignorance”, then don’t.

                    It is not clear the source of this quote: “A person who is bisexual will insist on being able to marry one of each.” I find no support on the linked site or elsewhere for your assertion that a bisexual person will not want to marry two people. The link I provided shows a variety that defies a pat answer.

  8. Submitted by Tim Droogsma on 06/26/2012 - 11:11 am.

    “Narrow band?”

    Beth’s second paragraph says there is usually a “very narrow band” of voters who are swayed at the end by anti-gay marriage ads. But when you look at the margins by which gay marriage is voted down, there’s no real evidence of her assertion. Some of the numbers by which gay marriage amendments have lost since 2005:

    Kansas 70%-30%
    Texas 76%-24%
    Alabama 81%-19%
    Colorado 56%-44%
    Idaho 63%-37%
    S. Carolina 78%-22%
    Tennessee 81%-19%
    S. Dakota 52%-48%
    Virginia 57%-43%
    Wisconsin 59%-41%
    Arizona 56%-44%
    Florida 62%-38%
    N. Carolina 61%-39%

    I’m no math whiz, but it doesn’t appear to me that there is any “typically very narrow band” of voters standing in the middle on this issue. Even the voters in famously liberal California rejected gay marriage 52%-48%. Take those 14 recent elections into account, and gay marriage loses by an average of about 64%-36%.

    Beth is certainly free to promote her gay marriage agenda, but the fact is that there’s no evidence whatsover that gay marriage keeps losing at the polls because of ads. It’s losing because – from Florida to Virginia to Wisconsin to Idaho – it’s unpopular. When you lose by an average of 28 points, it’s not the ad’s fault.

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