|Andrew Jackson - 7 th President of the United States, Wicked Campaigner (Credit: Wikipedia)|
I've worked in marketing communications and in politics, so the intersection of the two in this way is one I can't help but analyze. Why do we hate today's negative political campaigning so much? Is it because the tactic is unprecedented in its existence or its rancor? Neither are the case, since the election of 1828 contained such bile as would make David Axelrod blush.
Nor can it be that our offense is the result of our intelligence being insulted by campaign managers who foist these ads on us in vain. On the contrary, negative political ads work quite well.
If instead we say we're offended by these ads because they tend to stretch or plain make up the facts, we're getting closer to the truth. But it's not dishonesty as much as dissonance that raises our ire, in my opinion.
Consider this: anyone's best guess is that we're exposed to between 3,000 and 5,000 ads of all types in a given day. You may think that number is exaggerated, but set that aside for a moment. Of those, I would be willing to bet at least 95 percent of them - speaking of those placed by businesses and non-profits outside the political realm, mind you - are positive. They generally talk about the benefits of a product or company. (Well, most of them. I'm not sure what on earth this one is doing.) Occasionally you'll see a jab at the other guy included in an ad ("Our burgers have more beef!"), but often even these are vague references to the competition, not specific digs on an opponent.
If I and others are right in our combined estimates, we see approximately 4,000-plus ads a day that are intended to make us laugh, feel good, or want to improve ourselves. That's ample repetition to form an ingrained pattern in our minds. The brain is wired to detect patterns and deviations from it. When we see these deviations, we take note. When the deviations are extreme, we're wired to sound an alarm - in this case, take offense.
What makes us detest political ads is not just their objectionable content, but the fact that the content is found in a place where we expect much more positive communication. Sure the brooding music, cherry-picked stats and ridiculously serious tone of the voiceover warrants an eye roll from everyone, especially those in the craft of advertising. But the infringement on an otherwise calm ecosystem takes it to a new level of disgust in our psyche.
What do you think? Is it just the ever-presence and poor creative quality that make us hate negative political ads? Or is it the break from the norm they represent? Send me a comment or hit me on Twitter - @andy_fuller.