Villing & Company

The Autumn of My Discontent: The "Fall"-Out of Political Advertising

How can you not love fall in the upper Midwest? The foliage is spectacular. The days are frequently sunny with cool, crisp nights. High school, college and pro football. The baseball post-season. Usually the only thing negative about autumn is what comes after it.

But sometimes I think the older I get, the grumpier I become. Things just aren’t right. As I was driving into work this morning, I heard another political attack ad. Only this was on the radio. Historically most of this stuff has been on television. Now there is so much money to spend on political advertising, the people who drive these things are using up the inventory on television and moving on to other media. In the process, I believe they will hasten the decline of commercial advertising media. The reasons for my grumpiness are on several levels.

  1. Although many people think traditional advertising media outlets are increasingly irrelevant for delivering marketing messages, I believe they still have a role. But as these outlets are increasingly saturated with political weapons of mass destruction, the move by consumers to avoid or circumvent advertising-based media will only accelerate.
  2. There’s no accountability. If traditional advertisers used the same techniques of half-truths, innuendos and outright deception, they would be slammed by cease-and-desist orders, lawsuits and worse from the FTC and other government agencies. In political advertising, one can pretty much make any claim and there are absolutely no consequences.
  3. There are no limits on spending, no transparency – and no limits on the lack of transparency. With the Supreme Court decision earlier this year, corporations, organizations and individuals, for all practical purposes, can run as much negative advertising as they can afford. Increasingly this advertising is run in the name of a shell organization and there is no requirement to reveal the source of the funding or even identify its members. Free speech is our constitutional right, but anonymity in the name of free speech is not.

My frustration (and thus my grumpiness) is that as both a citizen and a marketing practitioner, there seems to be nothing that can or will be done about it. The waste is incredible. As I’ve noted in previous posts here, any type of advertising has a wear-out factor. After consumers hear the same message over and over, they effectively tune it out. So there’s no sanity in the overkill of much of this political advertising.

Imagine what we could do if we just eliminated the overkill factor. We could help provide much needed funding for our schools or other social service organizations. We could reduce the national debt. Who knows, we might even be able to save our advertising media outlets.

Filed Under: advertising

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