Villing & Company

Truth in Advertising

Why aren’t politicians held to the same standards as businesses?

In my youth, I was editor of the student newspaper at the University of Dayton. Our offices were adjacent to those of student government. It was the early 70s, a time of sit-ins and protest marches and a great deal of activism. It’s fair to say our student government was very much in the thick of the fight.

Now suppose I was running for a high political office today. Can you imagine the advertising my opponent might run? I can see the headline now. VILLING HAS TIES TO RADICAL EXTREMISTS.

You get my point. In political advertising, one can say just about anything -- from absurd innuendos and out-of-context half truths to claims that have virtually no basis in fact.

By contrast, truth in advertising laws that apply to everyone else from small businesses to large corporations are extremely strict and hold marketers to a high degree of accountability. The Federal Trade Commission, one of several government agencies with jurisdiction over advertising, says that an ad "could be considered deceptive if a claim - objective, subjective, implied or unique - is likely to mislead the typical consumer acting on a reasonable basis to that individual’s detriment." There have been many cases where organizations have been forced to spend millions on corrective advertising or faced other substantial penalties when they were shown to engage in deceptive marketing tactics.

Can you imagine if this standard were applied to political advertising?

The presidential campaign is, of course, the worst example of negatively deceptive advertising. USA Today recently cited two examples. The McCain campaign accused Obama of wanting to teach graphic sex to kindergartners when, in reality, the bill he supported in the Illinois Senate stated that instruction was to be "age appropriate" and specifically meant instruction to protect young children against predators. For Obama's part, his campaign has accused their opponent of favoring a 100-year war in Iraq when, of course, McCain was simply talking about a peacetime presence.

The double standard of what applies to the people who make the laws and those that have to live by them should be addressed. Freedom of speech is one thing. Freedom to deceive, in the name of freedom of speech, is unjustifiable.

Filed Under: advertising

Villing & Company

Villing & Co
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5909 Nimtz Parkway
South Bend IN 46628
574.277.0215

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