Hillary for America, “Just One”

  • Ad Title: “Just One”
  • Ad Sponsor: Hillary for America
  • Issue of Focus: National Security; Character Attack
  • Type of Advertisement: Attack
  • Broadcast Locations/Target Audiences: Florida, Pennsylvania, New Hampshire, Iowa, Nevada, Ohio, North Carolina and the Omaha market in Nebraska.
  • Dates of Airing: August 22th, 2016
  • Length (30 or 60 second spot ad): 30 seconds
  • Web Address of the Advertisement: http://www.livingroomcandidate.org/commercials/2016/just-one


[Hillary]: I’m Hillary Clinton and I approve this message.

[Narrator] In times of crisis America depends on steady leadership…

[Trump]: Knock the crap out of them, would ya? Seriously.

[Narrator] …Clear thinking…

[Trump]: I know more about ISIS than the generals do, believe me…

[Narrator]: …and calm judgment…

[Trump]: and you can tell them to go f*** themselves.

[Narrator] because all it takes is one wrong move.

[Trump]: I would bomb the s*** out of them

[Narrator]: Just one.

Ad Analysis
Alyson Farzad, Nora Murphy, & Claudia Serrano Rico, University of Maryland

Introduction and Context

As the 2016 presidential election reached a frenzy in the late summer months, the outcome seemed anything but certain. Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton and Republican nominee Donald Trump were running a close race. Polls in the last week of July and early August predicted a nearly dead-even race between to the two candidates.[1] Clinton’s campaign sought to disrupt this tight race by releasing several ads in late July through all of August, including “Someplace,” “Unfit,” and, “Absolutely.”[2] Each of these ads argued Trump was incapable of understanding the complexities involved with governing a nation.  The ads reasoned that Trump lacked the pragmatic experience and the necessary emotional steadiness to lead the country.

On August 22, Clinton’s campaign released the advertisement, “Just One,” to build on the existing narrative questioning Trump’s ability to be president.  This 30 second ad highlights Trump’s unstable temperament and raises questions about his fitness as commander-in-chief during uncertain and dangerous times. “In times of crisis America depends on steady leadership, clear thinking, and calm judgment,” claims the ad’s narrator.  The ad’s strategic gaze compares the narrator’s rational statements with the rash and inappropriate comments made by the Republican presidential nominee. Reminiscent of the Lyndon B. Johnson’s infamous 1964 “Daisy” ad, “Just One” insinuates global conflict and destruction in the hands of a President Trump.[3] The ad finishes with a foreboding message, with the narrator warning, “Because all it takes is just one wrong move.” Overall, the ad asserts Donald Trump’s temperament and lack of experience would lead to rash military decisions and ultimate destruction. The ad leaves the audience haunted by the potential nightmarish reality.

“Just One” uses two distinct rhetorical strategies to clarify and support the argument that Trump would spell out doom for America. First, the ad utilizes the horror genre – a popular tactic in contemporary political advertisements.[4] Second, the structure of the ad provides direct refutation through parallelism.  The structure explicitly lays out how Trump is the antithesis of the rational leader America needs. In this analysis, we will look at how both the horror genre and direct refutation undermine Trump’s credibility as fit for president.

Visual and Audial Depictions of Horror

Political ads use genre as a rhetorical strategy.  Genre has been a heavily utilized tactic in political ads.[5] According to Nelson and Boynton in Video Rhetorics: Televised Advertising in American Politics, genre implementation in political ads is effective because it “takes advantage of major templates of meaning already powerful in American life.”[6] The most profound of these genres has been the rhetoric of horror and dystopia found in negative attack ads: “Viewers can appreciate the spot’s presentation as the evocation of a nightmare society, a place of political horrors.”[7] Ads draw out an emotional response to whoever or whatever the ad is attacking when employing the horror and dystopian genres. “Just One” fits the criteria of the political horror genre through both visual elements – such as the use of colors and special effects – and audio elements.

First, the ad primes the audience to feel frightened during the opening scene.  The lighting of the White House contrasts the eerie sky in the background. The image shows a zoomed-out straight-ahead view of the White House awash with a reddish-orange warm glow. These colors are starkly different than the dark gray and deep blue cloudy sky. This hyperreal image impacts the audience’s psyche while watching the ad. First, the colors fit conventionally with the “popular colors of horror,” which prepares the audience to feel discomfort.[8] The color usage insinuates to the audience that the nation is in danger. Additionally, the visual image of an eerily lit White House against a stormy sky creates a dystopian setting with a desolate background and a silent White House building. The ad’s dystopia invites the audience to imagine the dark reality of Trump as a resident in the White House during these “uncertain times.”

A second visual strategy builds on the horror genre.  A grainy screen flashes between camera shots throughout the ad. The grainy screen flash appears technical in nature, as if the viewer’s TV itself is cutting out or having technical difficulties. A mechanical “schk” sound accompanies the visual blip in coverage.  The noise creates the impression the television or the video camera is not working correctly. These grainy, technical, mechanical flashes transition the view of the ad between the eerily lit White House and low-quality video clips of some of Trump’s most radical and inappropriate messages. The effect not only allows the audience to draw direct comparisons between the leadership required for White House and Donald Trump’s temperament, but this jarring visual/audial transition also emotionally affects the audience. In the horror genre, technical issues with video cameras and TV screens only precede a major horror event or act as a part of a horror climax.[9] Therefore, by borrowing this artistry from horror films, this horror-like ad creates feelings of anxiety and conflict as a result of Trump’s hysterical words and actions.

“Just One” also uses aural strategies in the creation of horror. The audio within the ad purposefully conveys feelings of anxiety and fear. In addition to the eerie “schk” sound accompanying the transitions between screens, the use of other sounds compound the horror. First, the ad deliberately uses a calm, male voice for the narrator to juxtapose the emotional pitch of Trump’s voice. The narrator’s serious tone seems foreboding.  It presents itself as the voice of reason, while simultaneously generating a somberness appropriate for this genre.

Perhaps the most impactful addition to the horror genre is the final, resonating sound at the end of the advertisement. The final two phrases of the ad are Donald Trump saying: “I would bomb the s**t out of them,” while the narrator responds, “just one” (a follow up from his previous phrase that “it only takes one wrong move”). As the voices utter these phrases, the audience hears the distinct sound of jets and missiles in the background. The narrator falls silent.  The sounds of the jets and missiles increase – it is the last sound the audience hears. The combined effect of the jet sound with the final narration makes the argument that Donald Trump’s temperament could launch the nation into war and destruction. This audial strategy is crucial for setting up feelings of horror in this genre piece. The missile-like sounds symbolize the global conflict that comes at the end of “Just One.” With the lingering noise of destruction reminiscent of the “Daisy” ad, the audience’s overwhelming feeling of anxiety and terror lasts beyond the thirty second ad itself.

Overall, the combined audio and visual strategies implemented in “Just One” represent a clear-cut example of how political ads use the horror genre. The use of color, technical transitions, voice, and foreboding missile sounds give the audience reason to fear a Trump presidency.  The ad’s structure augments its claim that Trump would be a dangerous president.  The ad uses direct refutation to strengthen the underlying assertion that Trump is unfit to lead America in military combat or global conflict.

Direct Refutation Strategy

Structurally, “Just One” directly refutes each Trump sound bite.  The ad opens by offering a statement on what America needs in a “time of crisis.”  The narrator calmly explains that in a “time of crisis,” America needs “steady leadership,” “clear thinking,” and “calm judgment.”  Karlyn Kohrs Campbell described Clinton’s rhetorical style as different from the traditional feminine rhetorical style that uses “domestic metaphors, emotional appeals to motherhood, and the like – and avoiding such ‘macho’ strategies as tough language, confrontation or direct refutation, and any appearance of debating one’s opponents.”[10]  The ad continues Clinton’s confrontational style of argumentation.  For each quality listed, “Just One” offers a clip of Trump as the antithesis of these leadership qualities.

First, the ad challenges Trump as a strong leader.  After the narrator says, “strong leadership,” the ad plays video footage of Trump sternly saying, “Knock the crap out of them, would ya? Seriously.”  Trump asks his audience to inflict violence.  The definition of steady includes: “not easily disturbed or upset.”[11]  Trump’s rash requests to his followers to harm others does not represent “steady leadership.”  The clip of Trump directly counters the belief that Trump is a strong leader.

Next, the narrator lists “clear thinking.”  The clip shows Trump emphatically declaring, “I know more about ISIS than the generals do, believe me…” The ad suggests that a man without military experience cannot reasonably claim to know more than about the situation with ISIS than America’s generals. The ad’s producers also reinforce the message that Trump is not showing clear thinking because his claim would generally be considered absurd.  Matt Lauer pressed Trump on the veracity of the claim during NBC’s Commander in Chief Forum.[12]  Underlying Lauer’s question are concerns about the clarity of Trump’s thinking when making bold statements.  In the clip, Trump also says to his audience “believe me.”  Trump offers no evidence for his claim, making his thoughts and statement seem unclear and unsubstantiated.  The ad directly refutes that Trump possesses the quality of clear thinking necessary for a U.S. president.

Calm judgment is the third leadership quality needed during a crisis according to the ad.  Again, the video of Trump directly refutes this quality.  Trump yells, “and you can tell them to go f*** themselves.”  Using expletives is not representative of calm behavior.  The camera zooms in on Trump’s face as he yells.  His face is red and he looks agitated.  His use of profanity is amplified as the volume of the “bleep” to cover the curse word is extra loud.  The ad shows Trump perturbed and cursing to directly refute his legitimacy as a leader who can make calm judgments.

At the end of the ad, the narrator explains why leaders need these qualities, declaring “because all it takes is one wrong move.”  The final sound bite is Trump saying, “I would bomb the s*** out of them.”  Again the volume of the “bleep” is louder than Trump’s voice to highlight his profane language.  His statement about bombing is the “one wrong move” against which the ad warns.  Trump’s own words show him as the antithesis of the leadership qualities needed in a time of crisis.  The parallel structure between the narrator’s claim and clips of Trump directly refute Trump as appropriately fit to lead.

Reception and Conclusion

The strategic use of both the horror genre and direct refutation has two main effects on the audience. The ad’s first impact is that it brings into question whether Trump is fit to be president. The ad attacks Trump’s “Achilles heel” – his temperament.[13] The direct refutation structure along with the technical visual/audial transition between Trump and the narrator connects Trump’s rash temperament to the commander-in-chief’s responsibilities. The ad’s second major implication is it sparks fear regarding the nightmarish possibility of Trump as president. Provocatively, there is no resolution at the end of the advertisement – not even Hillary Clinton’s voice (such as “I’m Hillary Clinton and I approve this message”) is available to provide some refuge from the terror. Instead, the ad implies the only way to end this nightmarish reality is to actively keep Trump out of the White House.

The reception of this ad provides evidence of these two stated impacts. One of the targeted audiences of this ad are what The Economist describes as “national security moms,” who would be horrified by any potential global conflict that might threaten the security of America.[14] This audience clearly understood the ad’s message: Trump could launch the United States into nuclear war. In addition to “national security moms,” critics agreed the ad effectively pointed out Trump’s biggest weakness: his temperament. Following the release of the ad, The Washington Post reported, “only 3 percent of those who view Hillary Clinton favorably think she lacks the temperament to do the job, according to our most recent poll. By contrast, 17 percent of those who view Trump favorably think he lacks the proper disposition.”  The ad reifies this image of Trump as a dangerous and unsuitable presidential candidate.

“Just One” fits into the “neatly packaged and monitored” communication narrative Clinton launched against Trump – a narrative her campaign has cultivated since the release of “Role Models” on July 7, 2016.[15] Adweek suggests “Just One” is just one of the many Clinton campaign attack ads released during the general election campaign: “you can surely expect to see more ads in this vein as Clinton remains relatively quiet in her negative ads, instead just hoping Donald Trump’s worst enemy ends up being Donald Trump.”[16] However, by effectively incorporating the horror genre and direct refutation, “Just One” stands out from the rest of Clinton’s attack advertisements as one of the most memorable and haunting.


[1]. Nate Silver, “2016 Election Forecast,” FiveThirtyEight, June 29, 2016, http://projects.fivethirtyeight.com/2016-election-forecast/.
[2]. “2016 Campaign Ad Archive,” New Republic, https://newrepublic.com/political-ad-database.
[3]. David Griner, “Clinton’s New Ad Offers A Dark Apocalyptic Look at the Weight of Trump’s Words,”  Adweek, August 22, 2016, http://www.adweek.com/news/advertising-branding/clintons-new-ad-offers-dark-apocalyptic-look-weight-trumps-words-173080
[4]. Nelson, John S. 1997. Video Rhetorics : Televised Advertising in American Politics. Urbana: University of Illinois Press.
[5]. Nelson and Boynton, Video Rhetorics, 59.
[6]. Nelson and Boynton, Video Rhetorics, 57.
[7]. Nelson and Boyton, Video Rhetorics, 66.
[8]. Nelson and Boyton, Video Rhetorics, 69.
[9]. Nelson and Boyton, Video Rhetorics, 64.
[10]. Campbell, K. K. 1998. The discursive performance of femininity: Hating Hillary. Rhetoric & Public Affairs, 1(1), 1-19.
[11]. “Definition of STEADY,” http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/steady.
[12]. “Commander-In-Chief Forum,” NBC News, accessed October 13, 2016, http://www.nbcnews.com/storyline/commander-in-chief-forum.
[13]. Phillip Bump, “Hillary Clinton’s new ad unsubtly fires at Donald Trump’s Achilles’ heel: Temperament,” The Washington Post,  August 22, 2016, “https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/the-fix/wp/2016/08/22/hillary-clintons-new-ad-unsubtly-fires-at-donald-trumps-achilles-heel-temperament/
[14]. “Clinton Republicans,” The Economist, August 27, 2016, http://www.economist.com/news/united-states/21705698-donald-trump-driving-professional-women-away-republican-party-clinton
[15]. Danielle Kurtzleben, “This Week, Trump Stumps as Clinton Airs Ads,” National Public Radio, August 23, 2016, http://www.npr.org/2016/08/23/490970197/this-week-trump-on-the-stump-as-clinton-airs-ads
[16]. David Griner, “Clinton’s New Ad Offers A Dark Apocalyptic Look at the Weight of Trump’s Words,”  Adweek, August 22, 2016, http://www.adweek.com/news/advertising-branding/clintons-new-ad-offers-dark-apocalyptic-look-weight-trumps-words-173080