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In politics, campaign advertising is the use of an advertising campaign through newspapers, radio commercials, television commercials, etc.) to influence the decisions made for and by groups. These ads are designed by political consultants and the political campaign staff. Political advertising is a form of campaigning used by political candidates to reach and influence voters. It can include several different mediums and span several months over the course of a political campaign. Unlike campaign finance, there are very few regulations governing the process, and many candidates use various techniques to influence their intended audience. Unlike the campaigns of the past, advances in media technology have streamlined the process, giving candidates more options to reach even larger groups of constituents with very little physical effort.
Political advertising has changed drastically over the last several decades. In the 1948 presidential campaign, Harry S. Truman was proud of his accomplishment of shaking approximately 500,000 hands and covering 31,000 miles of ground across the nation. But that accomplishment was soon to pale in comparison when in 1952, the next presidential election saw a major change in how candidates reached their potential audiences. With the advent of television, war hero and presidential candidate Dwight D. Eisenhower, created forty twenty-second television spot commercials entitled, “Eisenhower Answers America” where he answered questions from “ordinary” citizens in an attempt to appear accessible to “the common man.” These questions were filmed in one day using visitors to Radio City Music Hall, who were filmed gazing up at Eisenhower as he answered questions about the Korean War, government corruption, and the state of the economy. He didn’t have to shake a half a million hands or travel the country extensively. He won the trust of the American people with his direct approach and subsequently the Presidential election. His vice president was Richard M. Nixon.
In 1960, Vice President Nixon used a formal television address in his presidential campaign, designed to answer questions about The Cold War and government corruption, and to show Americans that he was the stronger, more experienced candidate. On the other side of the fence, Catholic born John F. Kennedy created approximately 200 commercials during his campaign, but there were two that made Nixon’s efforts futile. The first was a thirty minute commercial created from a speech he delivered in Houston, where he called for religious tolerance in response to criticisms that Catholicism was incompatible with a run for the Oval Office. The second and more memorable was the first Kennedy-Nixon debate. In the first of four televised debates, Kennedy appeared tanned and confident in opposition to Nixon, who looked pale and uncomfortable in front of the camera. Seventy-five million viewers watched the debates, and although Nixon was initially thought to be the natural successor to Eisenhower, the election results proved otherwise, and Kennedy was ultimately declared the winner.
In 1964, aggressive advertising paved the way for a landslide Johnson victory. One of the first negative and maybe the most controversial commercial, perhaps of all time, was an advertisement dubbed “The Daisy Girl.” The commercial showed a young girl picking the petals off a daisy. After she finishes counting, a voice off camera begins a countdown to a nuclear explosion. The ad ends with an appeal to vote Johnson, “because the stakes are too high for you to stay home.” The commercial used fear and guilt, an effective advertising principle, to make people take action to protect the next generation. The ad ran for under a minute and only aired once, but due to the right wing, pro-war views of the Republican candidate, it resulted in a 44 to 6 state victory for Lyndon B. Johnson.
Over the next decade, America saw the rise of the televised political attack ad. Richard M. Nixon was especially proficient at this form of advertising, and his commercials proved to be very successful in his reelection campaign of 1972, where he won handily with a 49 to 1 state victory. George McGovern ran a campaign free of political attack ads until the very end of his campaign, when he tried to attack Nixon after he realized he was dipping lower in the polls. His attempt proved to be too late, but his neutral style of attack ads against Nixon, featuring white text scrolling across a black background, became what is now seen as a fairly common method used in political and product advertising.
Attack ads continued to become the norm in political advertising. Ronald Reagan used them against Jimmy Carter in 1980, and it was also the first time that a family member was also used to attack the opposing candidate. One particular advertisement showed Reagan’s wife Nancy accusing Carter of a weak foreign policy. This campaign also saw the rise of campaign finance issues when Reagan used political action committees to solicit funds on his behalf. However, in his reelection bid in 1984, we saw the beginning of a different form of political advertising; one with a much more positive flow and a stronger, more powerful message. With the country in a relatively prosperous state, advertisements in support of Reagan evoked an emotional bond between the country and its president. Visions of Americans going about their daily lives with relative ease were compiled to convince America that voting against Reagan was a vote against prosperity. The positive and emotionally provocative ads proved more successful than negative attack ads. He was so highly successful that he won against Walter Mondale with a 49 to 1 state victory.
In the following election, attack ads returned with a renewed vigor. In 1988, George H.W. Bush used campaign ads that ridiculed his opponent, making him appear soft on crime. He contrasted these negative ads, with the emotional style commercial used by Ronald Reagan, to capitalize on his connection to the former president. Again borrowing from Reagan’s campaign practices he used free publicity as often as possible, making sure he was photographed in various situations that were likely to be aired in the evening news. Although Michael Dukakis tried to discredit the Bush campaign in many ways, he was ultimately unsuccessful, losing to the former Vice President by thirty states.
There is no other election prior to the 1992 presidential election that capitalized more on the growth of technology. The rise of cable television became a formidable marketing tool used quite successfully by former Arkansas governor, Bill Clinton. Both in 1992 and in his bid for reelection in 1996, he used various media outlets to reach demographics that had seldom been targeted in prior bids for the White House. Using brilliant campaigning techniques, he frequented daytime talk shows and popular culture media outlets such as MTV, to show he was in touch with the American public in a way that no other presidential candidate had been before. His paid advertising was also successful, placing him right in the middle of the political spectrum, appealing to a wide and diverse audience by using clean consistent messages and modern visions for the future. With the stark contrast of attack advertising and limited charisma coming from the opposition, George H. Bush lost his seat in the Oval Office to Bill Clinton in 1992, and presidential hopeful Robert "Bob" Dole was left behind in 1996.
In the 2004 election, another, and possibly the biggest change took place in political advertising; the growth of the Internet. Web-based advertising was easily distributed by both campaigns, and for the first time, advertisements were tailored to target specific audiences, a process known as narrowcasting. Both campaigns hired firms who specialized in the accumulation of personal data, and they used this information to highlight their strongest and weakest areas. Then unique advertisements, sometimes with completely different messages, would be delivered to specific demographic regions in order to generate support for their respective presidential candidate. Negative campaign advertisements were used primarily by the Bush Administration, although plenty of attack ads were generated on behalf of the Kerry campaign, produced by special interest groups protesting George Bush’s decision to enter into the War in Iraq in 2003. The race was close, but resulted in a photo finish win for the incumbent George W. Bush.
The general election in 2008 was not the flashiest or even the most remarkable presidential election in terms of technological advancement, but it was revolutionary in a couple of ways. Perhaps the most significant, was the impact on the country, as Illinois Senator Barack Obama was elected the first African American president in US history. However, the campaign itself was not extraordinary. Both parties spent a great deal on political advertising. Negative attack ads were more prevalent in the Republican camp, but they were used by the Obama administration as well, mostly to discredit Sarah Palin, who was the running mate of the Republican contender and war veteran, John McCain. But aside from its historical significance, a small but important aspect of this campaign was the way it changed how American people viewed a presidential hopeful, and subsequently their President. The art of narrowcasting was being refined by both candidates, but Obama took it to a new level. With the amazing growth of the World Wide Web, communication between candidate and constituent was becoming more and more instantaneous. Feedback was almost immediately available, and with Obama’s intimate knowledge of internet technology, unsurpassed by any other presidential candidate, he connected to the American public in a very real and familiar way. During and even after his election, he used “personal” email messages to communicate directly with the public. He was so successful at this practice that it began to be, and still is, questioned by Republicans and other various organizations, as to whether Obama violated any disclosure rules in his effort “to keep the public informed.”
Regulation of campaign advertising
United States of America
While there has been progress in regulating campaign finance, very little has been done in the way of regulating political advertising content. Candidates can and will display messages in their advertisements that come very close to propaganda. The Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act of 2002 addressed the issue of "soft money” or money contributed through political action committees, it raised the legal limits of hard money that could be raised for any candidate, and set limits on what funds could be spent on election broadcasts, but it did nothing to challenge the lack of truth in political campaign advertising. As of this time, there is no pending legislation addressing this issue.
In most EU Member States campaign advertising is heavily regulated.
In some Member States, the United Kingdom and Ireland for example, party political advertisements on broadcast media (known as Party Political Broadcasts) are restricted to specific circumstances such as political party conferences and a limited time period before a General Election. In the latter instance political parties are allowed specific time slots on the broadcast media in which the advert may be aired. These are limited in time, offered to all registered parties and must be aired at times during the schedules that have similar levels of viewership. Furthermore, a moratorium on all election coverage is mandated on the day of the ballot.
Some Member States regulate the posting of election posters at both national and municipal level. In Ireland there are restrictions on the erection of election posters which mandate the time period after an election by which time the poster must be removed, with fines as a potential sanction. Some local councils have voted to ban the placement of election posters, citing the cost of removal and the waste generated.
Many municipalities in France restrict the placement of election posters to specific areas, often erecting stands specifically for that purpose.
Regulation of political advertising
In contrast to advertising in the print, radio and internet media, many Member States of the European Union have consistently restricted advertising on broadcast media which are aimed at political ends, both party political advertising and political advocacy by non-partisan groups. These restrictions have been justified on the basis that the ban offers a level playing field in which money interests cannot gain an unfair advantage in the political discourse of a Member State. The broadcast media has been singled out due to its historical reach and influence.
Outright bans on advertising engaged in political advocacy have been referred to the European Court of Human Rights which has held that such restrictions are in breach of Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights. The Court has held that restrictions on political advertising could be justified in certain circumstances, provided they were proportionate to the public interest they aimed to protect. Certain Member States including the United Kingdom, Ireland and Switzerland have repeatedly refused to remove their blanket bans. An attempted television ad campaign by the Association against Industrial Animal Production (VGT) which draws a comparison between battery farming and the Holocaust was persistently refused in line with Swiss law, and has been the subject of two ECtHR cases, the second case resulting from the persistent refusal by Switzerland to modify its laws on political advertising. A potential landmark judgement is due from the ECtHR on the UK ban in 2013.
Effects of political advertising
Direct effects of political campaign advertising include informing voters about candidates' positions and affecting the "preferences and participatory ethos of the electorate". Studies show that voting results are affected by voters' characteristics and the type of ad they are exposed to.
Both positive and negative advertisement have been proven to play different roles in regards to candidate evaluation. Positive ads, which usually start at the beginning of a campaign aim at introducing or reintroducing a candidate through reinforcing his or her positive image and qualities.
Negative or attack ads have been studied for their effects on memory and ability to shape attitude towards candidates. Both variables are measured to determine the effectiveness of negative ads, which tend to be well remembered. The limitation of this technique is that it can sometimes be highly counterproductive as ads turn out to harm the attacking candidate.
One other effect of political campaign advertising includes greater attitude polarization among voters. In fact one study conducted by Gina Garramone on the effects of political advertising on the political process shows that "by discerning clear differences between candidates, voters may be more likely to strongly like one candidate while strongly disliking the other." This typically leads to higher levels of confidence within voters choices and can widen the degree of participation in the electoral process.
List of election advertising techniques
- Attack ad
- Bumper sticker
- Campaign button
- Direct marketing
- Election promise
- Get out the vote
- Lawn sign
- Negative campaigning
- Opposition research
- Personalized audio messaging
- Push poll
- Template:Title = Persuasion Principles Principles for Making Applications. A Creativity Exercise
- Template:Title = Advertising Principles
- Broadcasting Authority of Ireland, Broadcasting Code on Referenda and Election Coverage pursuant to the Broadcasting Act 2009 
- Irish Supreme Court judgement upholding ban after ECtR judgement quashing similar ban in Verein gegen Tierfabriken v. Switzerland 
- Ansolabehere, S. & Iyengar, S. (1995). Going negative: How campaign advertising shrinks and polarizes the electorate. New York: The Free Press.p.3.
- Biocca, Frank. (1990). Television and Political Advertising. Psychological Processes, Volume,1.
- Garamone, Gina M.; Charles K. Atkin, Bruce E. Pinkleton, and Richard T. Cole. (Summer 1990). Effects of Negative Political Advertising on the Political Process (PDF). Journal of Broadcasting & Electronic Media. Volume 34, Number 3 pp. 229-311. doi:10.1080/08838159009386744.
Croteau, D., & Hoynes, W. (2003). Media Society. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications.
Diamond, E., & Bates, S. (1992). The Spot: The Rise of Political Advertising on Television, 3rd Edition. Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
Dretzin, R. (Director), & Goodman, B. (Director). (2004). The Persuaders. [Frontline Documentary]. United States: Public Broadcasting Systems.
Museum of the Moving Image. (2010). The Living Room Candidate. Retrieved March 18, 2011, from http://www.livingroomcandidate.org/
Straubhaar, J., LaRose, R., & Davenport, L. (2010). Media Now: Understanding Media, Culture, and Technology. Boston: Cengage Learning.