Why I Love Political Ads

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.

– Loveland

8 thoughts on “Why I Love Political Ads

  1. The idea that “they matter” is precisely why I have so much trouble with irresponsible, overly “efficient” political ads. They’re efficient to the point of sacrificing honesty and principle.

    Is it really good to have more “engaged voters” if that engagement stems from ads that FactCheck.org spends hours dissecting because they’re so often so misleading?

    And yes, they’re scrutinized, but they’re scrutinized in those very arenas *not watched* by the people who “learn” from these scrutiny-inducing ads in the first place. What good is that?

    Don’t worry, though; while I disapprove of your message, I defend to the death your right to pay for it’s placement. 🙂

  2. Joe Loveland says:

    I completely agree that the scrutiny should be more widespread, which is one of the reasons I get depressed about the state of modern journalism. I am starting to see more of it lately though. CNN has reinvigorated the kinds of ad analyses that Brooks Jackson used to do for them. Pat Kessler locally does a nice job. The editorial pages of many daily newspapers scrutinize claims. And all of these analyses often find their way into ad rebuttals. You’re right though; the scrutiny needs to be more widespread.

    BUT, when the scrutiny does happen, and it happens more in this field than others, the ensuing discussion is often more meaningful debate than what we get from the major alternative forms of political communications, pre-fab speeches or carefully scripted debates.

  3. Joe Loveland says:

    …and by the way, are you insinuating that George Roland is NOT “the greatest Canadian of all times???”

  4. Joe Loveland says:

    Since deregulation became uncool a few days ago, John McCain started running on the bipolar Liberal-Conservative platform.

  5. Joe Loveland says:

    Example playing out on Twin Cities TVs today: Many undecided voters would not be exposed to this Coleman v. Franken exchange about oversight of the Iraq War. Simplistic, yes. But just as kids’ reading Captain Underpants is better than no reading at all, exposure to 30-second ad-based debates is better than no exposure at all.

  6. Joe Loveland says:

    Great point. To the best of my knowledge, Captain Underpants has not tried to do a guilt-by-association routine on Great Granny Girdle and Britney Spears, so the good Captain is safe from factcheck.org and Pat Kessler.

    But there are plenty who condemn reading Captain Underpants books, because they correctly point out that there is a huge opportunity cost of kids reading CU instead of Newberry Prize winners. This does remind me a bit about those of us who tut-tut about people relying on 30-second ads instead of Jim Lehrer. In both cases, the message delivery device is imperfect, but it beats the alternative (e,g, no reading or complete indifference about elections).

Comments are closed.