In defense of political advertising, Part II

Those who argue that political advertising is intrinsically bad misunderstand the role of advertising in our society. For the voting public to make an informed decision on whom to vote for, they need access to candidates’ views, and also to their demeanor, their leadership style, their “vibe.”

While the news media, collectively (TV, radio, print, internet) is an important avenue to accomplish the airing of candidates and their views, it isn’t sufficient. Many people don’t consume much news. Yet they may still be interested in making an informed choice between candidates.

Thus, advertising, with its ability to reach many people the news media might not, is a valuable (necessary?) piece of the mix.

While advertising is, by its nature, biased, that bias is largely negated by the fact that everyone understands this built-in bias and therefore factors it into their processing of the political advertising messages they receive. Of course a candidate will present himself and his views in his advertising in as positive a light as possible, and cast his opponent as negatively as he feels his audience will tolerate. But this bias is not unique to his advertising and other communications that he controls.

The information received via newspapers, magazines, TV and radio news and the internet is also inevitably biased, but more insidiously so since it generally pretends not to be.

And the whole sound bytes are inherently misleading or distorting is silly. Just because information comes in little bits at a time, doesn’t make that information wrong. If the information is misleading or distorting, that is because the candidate and his organization have chosen to communicate in a misleading or distorting way, regardless of how brief the bit of information is.

Another fundamental misunderstanding of advertising’s role that leads to its condemnation in the arena of politics is based on the assumption that advertising’s sole purpose is to sell. This is obviously not true. Advertising informs, persuades, influences, nudges, creates allegiances and emotional bonds, entertains—just as stump speeches, political press releases and interviews with Stewart or Maher or Letterman do.

A politician should be free to use whatever modes of communication are at his/her disposal to get his message out. Advertising is a perfectly legitimate option for doing just that. The fact that most political ads are badly done is a shame, but it’s beside the point.

19 comments:

Craig McNamara said...

I was recently speaking to a group of art students about advertising, and when I mentioned working on some political ads for candidates I didn't always see completely eye to eye with, someone asked me how well I slept at night. "Very well," I replied, explaining that I'm not setting their agendas, just helping them to communicate their message as effectively as possible. And as long as you aren't deliberately lying, there's nothing wrong with helping to explain their side of an issue.
(For more of my advertising commentary, see craigmcnamara.blogspot.com)

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