Determining the Efficacy of an Attack Ad Using Emotion AI

Within the political sphere, it isn’t always Democrats versus Republicans. Political parties can also have internal disagreements that lead to discord among candidates. The nature of political campaigns is to emphasize the value of a target candidate; often at the expense of others–regardless of party. This is best exemplified in attack ads. Attack ads are a familiar form of messaging in campaigns, but do they work? Sentient tested a recent advertisement from MAGA, Inc. to determine the media’s ability and effectiveness in changing implicit perceptions of the politician mentioned.


The 30-second spot “Pudding Fingers”, ran on CNN, Fox News, and Newsmax as part of a $1.5 million weekly ad buy by Donald Trump’s main super PAC MAGA. The ad villainizes Florida Governor Ron DeSantis (R) on the premise of allegations that DeSantis ate chocolate pudding using three fingers on a 2019 flight. MAGA creates an advertisement centered upon disreputable behavior by DeSantis. A cringe-worthy visual of this allegation is shown while explaining DeSantis supports changes to senior entitlements, including cutting social security and Medicare, and urges the audience to “tell Ron DeSantis to keep his pudding fingers off our money”.

Using our automated ad testing solution RAPID Subtext, Sentient learned how people felt about DeSantis pre and post exposure of “Pudding Fingers” to understand what moments of the spot impacted implicit attitudes of the politician. To determine this, our Emotion AI and Patented Implicit Technologies captured moment-by-moment universal facial expressions of emotion and assessed non-conscious perceptions of DeSantis.

Our Findings

Sentient’s RAPID Subtext product provides scientific evidence of the impact of an advertisement unavailable to research professionals and creatives through surveys. Results from RAPID found that prior to exposure of the ad, the audience didn’t think DeSantis was very disgusting. However, after a single exposure to “Pudding Fingers” people found DeSantis to be significantly more Disgusting, more Scary, less Intelligent, and less Presidential. As candidates prepare for the 2024 Presidential Election, insights into these associations are critical for positioning.

DeSantis Pre Post Changes Pudding Fingers

The emotional journey of people who feel DeSantis is less Presidential after viewing the ad is telling. There is a largely negative emotional response among this group– evident in the Valence dip when DeSantis sticks his fingers in the pudding and when the narrator mentions cutting Medicare.

These drops indicate these moments were critical to driving down attitudes toward DeSantis. While the former example pertains to the etiquette of an elected official, the latter demonstrates the audience’s values. Cutting Medicare is viewed as a Democrat position and is something Republicans are expected not to do.

Pudding Fingers Candidate Appeal

In addition to affecting the associations of DeSantis, MAGA’s incorporation of these clips increased Implicit Brand Appeal for a candidate they support, Donald Trump. Overall, the results prove that the “Pudding Fingers” attack ad on DeSantis was successful–negatively influencing implicit perceptions of MAGA’s political opponent

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