“I Have No Textbook”: Loss Aversion vs Prospect Theory

Democratic Political Ad

“I Have No Textbook”

Sick of political ads yet? Yeah, most of us are. They’re often negative and annoying. And perhaps that’s an understatement. But for me, there’s one ad that really stuck out this 2014 political season. You’ve probably seen it. It’s the “I Have No Textbook” ad. And this one really works. Here’s why.

Part of the “Tell Thom Tillis” ad series, this ad features Megan, a teacher from Cary, NC. This ad supports the re-election of US Senator Kay Hagan by pointing out how much ground we’ve lost regarding education. You may have even seen the rebuttal ad supporting her opponent, Thom Tillis. But what is it about Senator Hagan’s ad that makes it so effective? Loss aversion.

Loss aversion is the theory that contends people prefer to avoid losses more than making gains (prospect theory). The teacher explains the loss of textbooks and teachers’ aides, along with the increased class size she is expected to handle effectively under adverse circumstances. The ultimate victims of her situation are her students. Voters feel that loss. And there are very few of us across the State of North Carolina that are not, at some level, connected to a student. Megan describes the great loss. And we are moved.

The Tillis counters her concerns with the fact that teachers have received a pay raise. But the ad isn’t memorable or moving. Why?

Prospect theory doesn’t move the needle more than loss aversion. Speak to the losses and people will feel the pain and be motivated to change.