Advocacy Advertising and Political Debate

Let’s talk about advocacy advertising today. You’ve all seen television commercials attempting to swing public opinion. They’re designed to sway Congressional votes on important issues, such as gun control, abortion, trade, energy, health care and more.

Both sides of important issues employ research in these epic struggles. Typically, researchers read a series of one-sentence “sales” propositions to respondents. Respondents rate each proposition on a scale. Researchers then rank the propositions based on their average ratings.

For those producing and targeting commercials, these rankings reveal which arguments work best among groups people are for issues, against them or undecided. So far, so good. When we get to the next step in the process, however, a dark consequence of advocacy advertising begins to emerge.

Solving Health Care Reform in 65 Words?

The average 30-second television commercial contains just 65 words. That’s about four to six sentences depending on their length. Now you understand why so much effort was thrown into research designed to identify compelling sound bites.

Addressing Multidimensional Issues with Single-Minded Discussions

The medium of television advertising forces multidimensional issues into single-minded “discussions.” Each side hurls its sound bites at each other without ever truly addressing each others’ arguments. It feels like the movie Groundhog Day in which Bill Murray replays the same bad dreams over and over again in an endless series of looping nightmares. The usual results:

  • Political stalemate
  • Perpetual disagreement

Frustrating Progress

Most advocacy advertising lowers the level of public debate to that of two shrill cockatoos parroting the same soundbites at each other, over and over. We rarely seem to get past the opening volley in the debate.

Progress is the casualty. Frustration is the winner.

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One thought on “Advocacy Advertising and Political Debate

  1. Increasingly we are becoming a less-informed, polarized country. I mean, GW ran on a platform of NOT being the brightest bulb in the box, and WON. TWICE. Personally, I’d rather be governed by people smarter than me. And better informed and better able to work with people with different opinions.

    Compromise has gone from “partial victory for both parties” to “complete defeat for our party — not to be considered”. Negotiation is a bad word. It leaks down into people’s personal lives, which is a tragedy when taking a stand against compromise is done via violence. And given the tone of the politicians engaged in a lack of civil discourse — it being neither — violence sounds reasonable to an increasing number of people.

    When schools aren’t allowed to teach critical thinking or actual science, we are simply going to see an escalation of this situation. The Founding Fathers must be rolling in their graves.

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