can’t see the forest

US politics obsessed with ads

The BBC’s Kevin Young has published an excellent take on the hugely inflated role of PR and marketing in American politics. The piece documents a conversation between Young and former US Vice-President and Presidential candidate Al Gore.

TV commercials lasting 30 seconds were “not thoughtful statements of policy” but were “usually emotive” and “well-tested” on focus groups, he said.

And he claimed the power of modern advertising had led to the ability to create demand for products “artificially.”

“That same phenomenon has now happened to democracy,” he said, suggesting that too often, political parties made decisions based on reactions to their advertising campaigns.

It’s true. It’s not a new phenomenon, exactly, but it is one that’s getting worse and with which voters have become complacent, to their own detrement. Take a look as this Reagan ad from back in 1984 explains all that’s right with America. Got some tissue?

So that’s the warm and fuzzy technique. On factual and logical grounds, any college economics student could provide a pretty damaging exploration of the hollow inferences meant to be drawn from such schtick.

From a 2000 Congressional campaign, here’s the other major approach most often utilized:

These tactics are used by candidates from both parties, all the time. The candidates go on radio or television and have “debates,” and they speak about “issues” at their campaign events, but there are two essential problems of balance in the way that these campaigns are conducted. The first is that knowledge of history and anything approaching a diversity of understanding of the pertinent domestic and global political issues will show that the range of viewpoints being proffered and debated is always quite narrow, and is generally slanted to the right of what might be inferred from academically grounded public opinion polling.

The second is that the emotional messages behind these horrible kinds of advertisement tend to take precedence in the minds of most voters, whether they realize it or not. When we watch TV we tell ourselves that we can logically separate the hype from the substance, and certainly we’re capable of doing that on an intellectual level. But it’s really, really hard for anyone to objectively analyze the impact of this kind of advertising on the mind. The people who do it for a living have had generations in which to refine their techniques. That’s not something to dismiss. And it’s not a lack of education that renders a populace subject to this kind of crap. That’s important to remember. The key factor is a very thorough education along certain ill-defined lines.

In the old days, it was all leaflets and posters. Television has added a great deal of sophistication to the delivery method, but not to the technique. That’s still the same as it was in the Soviet Union and in America alike going back to the early 1900s.


2 Responses

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  1. Bluebear2 said, on 10/1/06 at 4:51 pm

    Here in California our voter information pamphlet for the Nov. election is printed on 8 1/2 x 11 paper and is 196 pages long.
    The result being that these ads are probably all a majority of the voters will be basing there votes on.
    A sad sad condition!

  2. Victor Stoltz said, on 1/18/07 at 1:43 am

    Google is the best search engine

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