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Team Trump uses Russian footage in its advertising (again)

Given recent history, and Trump's unfortunate history with Russia, these are amateur missteps the Republican operation probably ought to avoid.
Image: Three policemen patrol Red Square in Moscow
Three policemen patrol Red Square in Moscow on May 17, 2020.Yuri Kadobnov / AFP - Getty Images

After recent reporting on Donald Trump denigrating military service, the president's re-election team tried to address the problem by launching a digital ad emphasizing his support for Americans in uniform. There was just one problem: the ad released by a fundraising arm of the Trump campaign used stock images of Russian fighter jets and weapons.

As Politico reported late yesterday, something quite similar happened again this week.

A new pro-Trump super PAC ad uses stock footage from Russia and Belarus in a major ad buy that's airing in three swing states.... America First Action last Thursday launched an ad called "Pandemic Tax" in Florida, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin as part of a $10 million ad campaign slamming Joe Biden for supporting bad trade deals and arguing that he would raise taxes on "all of us." But some of the people featured in the ad were actors in stock footage from Russia and Belarus.

For those who work outside media and advertising, it's worth noting that use of "stock" images and footage is common, both in print and broadcast ads. As we recently discussed, an ad campaign may want to promote a product for new parents, for example, so advertisers will purchase existing images of babies, cribs, bottles, etc.

But political campaigns are usually cautious when including "stock" images and footage, precisely to avoid problems like these.

Complicating matters, this latest revelation sounds familiar for a reason. Remember this one from July?

A new advertisement from President Donald Trump's re-election campaign features an image of a policeman being attacked, designed to show "chaos [and] violence" in the United States -- but it's actually a photo from a 2014 Ukrainian pro-democracy protest. The ad compares "public safety," shown as Trump speaking with police officials, to the "chaos [and] violence" of the Ukrainian protest image.

The protesters in the image were taking a stand against Viktor Yanukovych, in part over his ties to Moscow.

In fact, by Politico's count, there have been four instances from the last three months in which Americans have seen ads promoting Trump's re-election featuring footage from Russia.

In all likelihood, this is just an unfortunate coincidence. But given recent history -- Trump sought, received, lied about, and benefited from Moscow's assistance four years ago -- these are amateur missteps the Republican operation probably ought to avoid.