Thursday, October 28, 2010

Why We Hate Political Ads

With less than a week to go until election day, it is impossible to avoid the barrage of political advertising. It assaults us through our television sets and radio speakers, in our mailboxes, on our computer screens and over the telephone. And most of the messages we get are blatant “attack ads” that are misleading at best and can be downright vicious.

I hate them. You hate them. The politicians claim to hate them.

So why do attack ads continue to be the core of political advertising? I have several theories.

First, they work. Those voters who are savvy enough and involved enough in the political process can usually see right through the rhetoric and bombast. But, at the risk of sounding elitist, a large number of voters are not sophisticated enough to separate the wheat from the chaff. They register as “fact” the slams and slanders that pass for messaging. The polls reflect this, as numbers rise and fall with the waves of vile advertising.

(Don’t get me started on the pimping of the pollsters. Suffice it to say that Mark Twain was right when he said that “figures don’t lie, but liars figure.”)

Another reason attack ads remain important to candidates is that they are an easy way to avoid taking a real stand on issues. Instead of telling voters what they believe in and what they will do if elected, candidates can get away with focusing on how much worse it would be if their opponents were to win.

Attack ads are also easy to develop. Instead of crafting content that inspires the electorate, all the copywriter has to do is carefully cut and paste snippets of the opponent’s previous speeches until they paint a portrait that is sure to frighten voters to choose the “safe” candidate.

The political process, spurred by the media, has devolved into an ugly, mud-spattered wrestling match in which almost all candidates come out sullied. Don’t be taken in by this hucksterism. Take the time to dig deep and try to discover the core beliefs of the candidates on your ballot. Remember you’ll be stuck with the person you elect, at least until the next round of name calling and character assassination begins in a few years.

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