November 01, 2010

The Politics Of Advertising

Tuesday is Election Day. Thankfully, we will be rid of some of the most awful, cynical advertising I've ever seen.

Political advertising has been horrifying for a long time now. But it has reached a level of nastiness and deception that I believe is unprecedented.

Politicians of both parties rarely even bother to state their cases any more. They just focus on driving up their opponents' "negatives" with attacks and half-truths.

When brand advertisers make a specific product claim, we are required by media outlets to provide written evidence to back-up our claims. But the politicians have legislatively exempted themselves from the rules that govern the rest of us. They can say whatever the hell they want about themselves or their opponents without being required to provide evidence. This is done under the guise of "political free speech."

According to CBS News, Brooks Jackson of
The First Amendment's free speech requirements give politicians "a legal right to lie to you just about as much as they can get away with," 
The thing that should be really frightening to us ad people is that nobody studies the effects of their advertising like the political class. They test everything. They are constantly polling to see how their advertising is affecting their numbers.

They know what works and they know what is effective. They don't care about soft measures like most marketers do. They don't care if people "like" their ads, or are "aware" of their advertising. They just care about whether the polling numbers say it's working or not.

Unfortunately, we ad people have to face the reality that this horrible advertising and the strategies behind it are alarmingly effective. It's very sobering.

The other interesting thing about political advertising is that I am apparently not the only one who has come to the conclusion that the web is a weak ad medium.

While politicians have used the web very effectively to raise money from their supporters, they seem to have no confidence in it as an advertising medium.

Just two years ago, Lehman Brothers (remember them?) forecast that by this election cycle, web advertising would constitute 7.2% of political advertising spending. They were wrong. In fact, web advertising has accounted for less than 2% of political ad spending this year.

Meanwhile, TV got over 65% of political ad dollars. Even direct mail is deemed more effective by political candidates than the web. For every dollar they've spent on the web, they've spent 13 in direct mail.

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