This is the season when break rooms are abuzz with talk about how much we hate political ads. Goodness knows, it’s fun to lampoon them, as Saturday Night Live did so well this weekend.
Well, I’m the guy who is quiet when the rest of you are complaining. Because I have a confession to make. I have a soft spot in my heart for political ads. I realize this is like admitting in polite company that you dig quality time in porta-potties. But I yam what I yam.
Political ads, how do I love thee, let me count the ways…
• THEY’RE EFFICIENT. In a world full of blathering, undisciplined PowerPoints, reports and speeches, political ads are as efficient as a haiku. Try taking an annual report and boiling it down into a 30-second script, and you’ll have a new appreciation for the craft.
• THEY MATTER. When I worked on campaigns, an army of staffers would toil in the field for months as the polls remained flat. The day the ads started, the polls moved, dramatically. Sometimes up and sometimes down, but they moved. People who tell you these ads don’t influence them are rare, liars, or self-delusional. Political advertising is far from the only factor in elections, but they are a very big factor. You can’t understand politics unless you understand political ads, and politics shapes our futures in profound ways.
• THEY’RE EDUCATIONAL. We can wring our hands all we want that citizens don’t follow C-Span, or the myriad of news outlets out there. But for lots of reasons, lots of folks don’t follow the issues as closely as they should. Political ads shake these citizens into awareness and at least some level of engagement. Without these ads, we would have far fewer voters and even less engaged voters, and that would be bad for democracy.
• THEY’RE SCRUTINIZED. It’s pretty rare for the ads made by Microsoft, Exxon, Pfizer, Philip Morris and other companies to be exposed as untruthful, but an aggressive army of journalists and opponents are out there rebutting documentable lies told in political ads. The back-and-forth that results from this scrutiny, that’s democracy baby!
Do I get tired of the volume of political ads running during election season? Sure, just like I get tired of department store ads in November and December, and health club ads in January. But ‘tis the season.
So there, I said it. And I approve of this message.