Political advertising sucks. Not only does it reduce complex issues to the level of a schoolyard taunt, there are few boundaries to constrain the worst offenders in the game. And the game appears to be called “Who Tells Lies the Fastest.” With anger and sadness, Scott G looks at some of the dreck we endure prior to every election.
Let’s say you’re a marketing professional with no morals. You could then happily create political ads. Here are four types of political-ad-blather we have all come to know and loathe.
The “misdirected blame” ad. Here, you take the shortcomings of your candidate and accuse your opponent of those very same failings.
If your man is inept, as evidenced by failed business ventures in his past, you produce commercials calling his opponent a business bungler.
If your man has no backbone, as shown by his having evaded active duty military service, you produce commercials calling his opponent a coward.
If your man has little intelligence, as shown every time he opens his mouth, you produce commercials calling his opponent uninformed.
Strange and wondrous things now begin to occur. The opposition is thrown off-balance. They become defensive, wasting valuable time and energy countering charges they never imagined anyone would toss at them (after all, they’re untrue).
Your opponent’s team is reduced to spluttering about those “shocking and scurrilous false accusations” or some such, followed by the adult equivalent of the schoolyard chants “I am rubber, you are glue, what bounces off me sticks to you” or “I know you are but what am I?”
The media solemnly reports on the charges and countercharges, never bothering to dig into the facts. This is due to laziness coupled with an editorial policy that directs reporters to zero in on what’s happening now instead of what may have happened in the past.
Result: Since no one knows who did what, the playing field becomes a muddy mess. The clown with the worst record has pulled the opposition down to his level. Score one for the greater of two evils.
The “my opponent kills puppies” ad. In this approach, you focus on something that people fear, and then associate your opponent with it.
This is especially effective for candidates whose constituency has a low I.Q. When your base cannot see the difference between an appropriations bill with proper funding and one that permits grabbing money from unrelated sources, then smearing your opponent is the right way to go.
Forget about the nuances involved in most issues. Whitewash those shades of gray. Don’t let reality stand in the way of a good, long, loud pejorative shout. Name-calling, vile innuendo, and out-and-out lies are great.
And again, the media will report on the charges and countercharges, not on the reality of the case.
Result: Simplistic people retain simplistic statements and vote accordingly. Whoever shouts the shortest statement the loudest usually wins. Plus, people with reasoning ability throw up their hands in disgust, questioning the very nature of the process. Score another one for the scoundrels.
Make a Dollar Want to Holler
The “frightening fiscal figures” ad. This is the insidious use of statistics to becloud people’s minds.
“They raised millions for attack ads!” you scream about your opponent. “Billions in land development deals!” you proclaim of your opponent’s backers. “Tax and spend, tax and spend, tax and spend!” you yell when your opponent has suggested the nation should stop borrowing against our children’s future.
The media will run stories about funding and appropriations, but usually in such crushingly boring terms that it is nearly impossible to learn anything about the way your tax dollars are being wasted.
Result: Even rational people are battered by the barrage of conflicting dollar amounts and charges of fiscal finagling.
Let’s Do the Twist
The “take the facts and distort ’em ’til they squeak” ad. Things are complicated in the world, but the electorate cannot be bothered to acknowledge this. Taking time to learn something about the issues requires work, and you don’t expect people to do that, do you?
So you take something your opponent says and simplify it until it’s short, sweet, shocking, and wrong.
“My opponent wants criminals on the street!” scores if you’re up against someone who has correctly pointed out that our criminal justice system isn’t working effectively.
“Drug dealers on your doorstep!” is a sure winner if your opponent has correctly mentioned that our drug policies are hurting our country instead of helping it.
“Why do they hate America?” works every time you’re running against someone who wants accountability in politics or ethics in governmental programs. If your opponent points out that the U.S. used to be the moral leader in the world, shout “America hater!” at the top of your lungs.
Result: See “Saying Boo!” above.
Is a ban on political ads the way to go? What about limiting campaigns to two weeks? How about an all-political-ads channel? That would get the damn things off all normal programming. But then we’ll have lots of iPod political ads. And once again, we’d see candidates playing by a complete lack of rules.
One huge result of all this: a political landscape cluttered with people who have only a fleeting relationship with the truth. And when you elect people like that, what can you expect from your local, state or federal representatives?
The problem of smears, distortions and lies in political advertising is so prevalent that we can say goodbye to the basic lament of “Why do so many bad people run for office?” because it has been replaced by one that is much sadder: “Why would a good person even consider running for office?”
Photo-illustration by Phil Hatten Design.
[tags]G-Man, Scott G, Communication Nation, advertising, ad rants, political advertising[/tags]