• Ad Title: “Wolves”
  • Ad Sponsor: Bush/Cheney
  • Issue of Focus: National security and the threat of terrorism
  • Type of Advertisement: Negative Advertisement
  • Broadcast locations: National cable rotation and selected regional locations
  • Release Date: October 22, 2004
  • Length: 30 seconds

“Wolves” Script

Voice Over: In an increasingly dangerous world…Even after the first terrorist attack on America…John Kerry and the liberals in Congress voted to slash America ‘s intelligence operations. By 6 billion dollars…Cuts so deep they would have weakened America ‘s defenses. And weakness attracts those who are waiting to do America harm.

President Bush: I’m George W. Bush and I approve this message.

Analysis of “Wolves”–Joshua Kaminski, University of Maryland

Ad Context

“Wolves” emerges as the campaign comes down the homestretch towards the election. President Bush continues to refine his message as he visits important battleground states. Seeking to portray Senator Kerry as weak on the issue of national security and protection against terrorism, the Bush campaign returned to the earlier campaign plank. With a recent focus on domestic issues, the president’s campaign has reintroduced the element of national security, continuing to impress the notion of Senator Kerry as weak on defense.


Leading into a barnstorming tour of such pivotal states as Pennsylvania and Florida , the president continues to re-emphasize this message.


Ad Assumptions

“Wolves” rests on a few overt political assumptions as well as more subtle assumptions, drawing on viewers’ past campaign knowledge. By re-emphasizing Kerry’s weak stance on national defense, the Bush campaign is seeking, with a week left in the election, to continue to hammer home the understanding of Kerry’s feeble international policy as they have framed it.

The ad also relies on a subtler underpinning for those with a broader voter memory. During the 1984 presidential contest between Reagan and Mondale, the Reagan campaign produced an ad entitled “Bear in the Woods” or “Bear” written by Hal Riney. Riney’s ad, a parable of the Cold War, featured a bear in the woods, speculating on the Soviet Union and its designs during the cold war. In the Riney ad, the question rotated about whether or not the Soviet Union had benign or hostile intentions. Regardless, the ad asserted that whatever the Soviet orientation, Ronald Reagan would be better equipped to handle the situation. In this case, “Bear in the Woods” was largely thought to help frame Reagan’s position vis-à-vis Mondale for the 1984 presidential contest.


The Riney “Bear” ad has been touted for its simplistic yet sophisticated way of conveying to the voter why Reagan could handle the Soviet Union better than Vice President Mondale. As such, “Wolves” is couched in the same vein as the “Bear” parable, making a connection between the 2004 and the 1984 campaigns. In that regard, if a viewer’s sophistication can relate back to the “Bear” ad or conjure up a passing remembrance of the Reagan ad, connections between Reagan’s handling of the Cold War and President Bush’s handling of the War on Terror will become more explicit. The campaign attempts to link, at least implicitly, President Bush to President Reagan, which creates positive connections for voters familiar with and enamored by the late president. In the end, such a connection may activate voters to go to the polls on November 2, 2004. In short, they are playing on the Reagan “Bear” model with a 21 st century spin while trying to capture the spirit of the Reagan era, his strong stance on foreign policy, and the severity of the new international threat to the United States.


Ad Content–“Wolves at the Gate”

To understand the visual of the “Wolves” ad, it is necessary to deconstruct the straightforwardness of the metaphor. In using such an overt metaphor, the ad seeks to make some subconscious links for the voter and Kerry’s stance on national security.

The ad is set in a dense woodland area that can best be equated in the parable to the idea of the global climate or community. The old adage that “it is a jungle out there” is easily conjured, reinforcing the notion that the current world is a dark, dangerous place. In using the image of an overcast, densely foliaged area where only small amounts of lights can penetrate, the viewer gains the sense that the world is not unlike a cold, dark forest, where danger is ever-present. The narration, then, serves to make the association overt, commenting that the world is “an increasingly dangerous place.” Further, the narration comments on the first terrorist attacks on America, which is accompanied by fast edits of wolves roaming through the forest. Wolves, rising from their rest, and their shadows cast towards the vantage of the camera activates the metaphor for the viewer – the world is a dangerous place where terrorists are lurking to do us harm. The image of wolves as dangerous predators in an eerie and dangerous place, such as the woods, projects the idea that America is situated in a position in the world, where terrorists are seeking to prey upon any potential weakness, not unlike a wolf and its prey. Playing on the natural fear of such ferocious predators as wolves, the ad seeks to make the connection between this more guttural fear of a natural predator and the fear of terrorism, prevalent after the 9/11 attacks.

After commenting on “John Kerry and the congressional liberals” and how they voted to cut defense and intelligence funding and even layering text on the congressional voting over a shot of the woods, the ad argues that such action weakens America and that weakness attracts predators. To emphasize this, staying with the metaphor, a pack of wolves resting on a hill, move toward the camera. Effectively, the ad argues that a President Kerry would beg terrorist attack, the terrorists effectively sensing the weakness. The wolves coming towards the camera yield a sense of impending doom and fear naturally associated with the sense of a carnivorous predator closing in.

Visually, then, “Wolves” serves as a very powerful metaphor. The use of wolves to parallel terrorists is a particularly apt analogy due to the predatory patterns. Further, wolves’ roam in packs as terrorists operate in cells – this association, while not the first connection to be made, demonstrates the versatility and power of the metaphor.

In short, the metaphor ad does a powerful job in creating the negative emotions towards wolves into a matrix for the negative feelings towards terrorists in the post 9-11 world. In addition, by turning this metaphor towards John Kerry and liberals in Congress, the ad projects a fear communicated by the thought of a Kerry presidential administration in a dangerous world, essentially making the metaphor ad chiefly negative in its orientation for the Bush campaign.

Ad Content – “The Sound of Fear”

Aurally, the ad relies on the narration of fear to project its message as well as the use of ominous, scary music to emphasize its visuals. In attempting to analogize the dangers of the potentiality of terrorism, the ad relies on a women’s voice to sketch out the inherent danger electing Kerry would have for the nation. While ordinarily a women’s voice could be considered by some to be comforting, for the purposes of “Wolves,” the woman’s voice comes across as eerie and foreboding, as if forecasting the sense of dread of terrorism at America ‘s door.

The music employed is not a prevalent feature of the ad, yet plays an invaluable role in advancing the metaphor. Not unlike a horror movie, where danger lies just around the corner for the hapless victim, the ad employs an eerie, ominous music as the backdrop for the ad. The feeling of impending doom and fear are emphasized by a repetitive tone, all too common in horror films or in suspense movies and television shows. As in Jurassic Park , the viewer, in absorbing the visuals and the music, is drawn into this feeling of anxiety and fright with the menacing, fearful music track leading the way towards danger.

By emphasizing the terrorist attacks (though not stipulating which ones), the ad aurally connects the feeling of doom and fear of terrorism with the possibility of electing John Kerry president. Seeing wolves on the screen and hearing the menacing music, the viewer is transported into a context whereby they can both associate with being hunted by wolves and the actuality of being hunted by terrorists. The parallels become clear and the danger becomes much more overtly realized and processed.

Ad Content – “Bear” versus “Wolves”

Visually, the Riney “Bear” ad for the 1984 Reagan campaign and the “Wolves” ad for the Bush/Cheney campaign share the common trait of being straightforward. In “Bears” the association of bears to the colossus of the Soviet Union and its either benign or maligned intentions, the ad achieves a visually simplicity of hammering home the notion that, like a bear, there is a potential danger in the Soviet Union . The metaphor is visually processed as the bear, a large, potentially dangerous animal, is just like the Soviet Union, a large, potentially dangerous political entity. The ad overall, though, likewise requires a sophisticated reading, assuming that viewers will draw the connection between communism and bears in the 30 second ad. Similarly, “Wolves” portrays terrorists, cell-oriented, conniving, opportunistic killers, like wolves, a pack-oriented, scavenging, vicious predator animal. In the event that the metaphor is not understood, “Wolves” goes one step further and more explicitly extends the argument that a Kerry president will invite danger (e.g., wolves—terrorists).

Visually, then, in “Bear” and “Wolves” the virtue of the two ads is found in their ability to find apt and intelligent metaphors to parallel the danger each ad seeks to demonstrate. In “Bears,” though, neither Walter Mondale nor the Democrats are mentioned as weak on defense. In this sense, “Wolves” becomes more explicit in its orientation as a negative ad, while “Bears” requires the voters to draw the conclusion that the Republicans will keep us safer.

In addition, the Soviet Union is never explicitly mentioned in “Bears;” the ad only questions the best way to understand if the bear is vicious or not and its intentions, if there is a bear at all. “Bear” attempts to let the viewers take the simple notion of a bear in the woods and its questionable intentions and make the causal link to the Cold War themselves. “Wolves,” however, spells out, in more explicit terms its understanding of the wolves as terrorists, citing the terrorist attacks. While “Bear” aimed at jabbing at the fundamental fabric of the Cold War, and the transcendent issue of the handling of the Soviets, the ad ultimately lets the viewer frame the ad in the context of the Mondale/Reagan contest. “Wolves,” on the other hand, takes this advance one step further, couching the ad in negative terms against Senator Kerry’s record against defense spending as a threat in the war against terrorism.

Ad Contents – The Facts

Bush Campaign

In the ad, the Bush campaign contests that John Kerry and congressional liberals voted to cut intelligence operations by six billion dollars, citing congressional vote number 39 in 1994. While referring the first terrorist attack, the ad leaves this area purposively vague, making reference to the WTC 1993 terrorist attack as opposed to the 9-11 assault. The Bush campaign website cites an amendment to a bill Senator Kerry proposed in 1994 to cute intelligence spending by 6 billion dollars. Additionally, the Bush campaign makes reference to other bills congressional “liberals” like Tom Harkin, Frank Lautenberg, Patrick Leahy, and Daniel Inouye that sought to cut intelligence spending.


Kerry Campaign

In their rapid response center, the Kerry campaign does not contest the senator’s voting record in 1994, but instead offers up that Porter Gross, President Bush’s choice to head the C.I.A., sought to cut defense spending more than Senator Kerry. Additionally, the response center cites numerous attempts by Gross to cut intelligence spending and personnel allotments, while contending that the current administration sought intelligence cuts even after 9-11. The Kerry campaign, thus, adamantly contends that Senator Kerry is dedicated to supporting intelligence spending.

Further, the response to “Wolves” from the Kerry campaign contends that Senator Kerry defended this country in Vietnam as well as voting for intelligence spending on Capitol Hill, concluding that the world is less safe now than it was when George W. Bush took office 4 years ago and that “Wolves” continues in the vein of negativity aimed towards Senator Kerry that is reaching unprecedented levels.

Who Is Talking About the Ad and the Issue

Kerry Campaign

The Kerry campaign released an ad entitled “Protect” with eagle imagery to counter “Wolves” and posit the senator’s position and strength in regards to national security ( http://www.johnkerry.com/tv/ ). Additionally, it appears the Kerry campaign has an ad contrasting an eagle and ostrich metaphor ad in the works.


President Bush

“The outcome of this election will set the direction of the war against terror, and in this war there is no place for confusion and no substitute for victory….”His top foreign policy adviser has questioned whether it’s even a war at all, saying that’s just a metaphor, like the war on poverty, I’ve got news: Anyone who thinks we are fighting a metaphor does not understand the enemy we face and has no idea how to win the war and keep America secure.”


Vice Presidential Candidate John Edwards (as reported in the AP)

In a Boynton Beach , FL speech, Edwards accused Bush of “continuing to try to scare America in his speeches and ads in a despicable and contemptible way.”


The Chicago Sun-Times

“In heavily symbolic television spots, President Bush’s campaign uses prowling wolves to suggest that the country under Sen. John Kerry would be vulnerable to terrorists. The Democratic Party claims the Republican incumbent is a head-in-the-sand ostrich while his opponent is as strong as an eagle.”


The Associated Press

“It’s certainly playing to fear,” said Darrell West, a Brown University political scientist who studies campaign advertising. “It builds logically on other things they’ve been saying for months.”

The ad, Bush aides say, was created in the spring and was found to be highly effective in focus groups.


Note: It appears as though each campaign has had these ads prepared well in advance of their release ( http://www.suntimes.com/output/elect/cst-nws-ads24.html ).