Negative ads a real turn-off

Do you remember those kids in elementary school who were constantly running to the teacher to rat on other kids? “Mary is passing notes in class.” “Tommy is chewing gum.”  “Jimmy is making up silly poems.”

In fact, they weren’t silly — they were clever. Depending on the era, they were called stool pigeons, teacher’s pets, or finks. They got pounded at recess, stuffed in lockers between classes or beat up after school, but it never seemed to deter them from their joy of getting others into trouble.

I have a theory where most of them ended up. I’m sure a lot of them work for the income tax department, but I believe most of them landed lucrative positions with ad agencies producing negative political campaign ads. It seems they are in their element in an environment where they get paid to embellish and lie and stretch a few grains of truth into long propaganda-filled speeches.

They honed their skills stringing tall tales as children and watching with glee as their victims were forced to defend themselves in the principal’s office or to their parents. Now they have the entire country as their audience and their political opponents as their prey.

Personally, I don’t want to hear what anyone has to say about their opponent. I want to hear them tell me what they plan to do for me, my region, my country. It seems ridiculous for an organization to spend millions of dollars to put their opponent’s face in the newspaper every day or on TV all night. Why not spend that money locally in each riding to promote the merits of your candidates?

From time to time, I would have a salesman come into my office and start by running down his competitor or spewing gossip about other people in the industry. I would interrupt them and tell them that their time in my office was short and I wanted to hear why I should buy their product and not why I shouldn’t buy someone else’s. For some of these people, it was very difficult to continue as the culture of their organization was to destroy the competition’s reputation.

Millions of dollars are spent on political campaigns just analyzing ads and the reaction of the public to the message. Most experts will agree that the opponent’s reaction to the negative ads, especially if the response itself is negative, hurt the candidate more than the initial ad did. On the other hand, positive responses to negative ads are generally viewed as being weak and tend to add some believability to the opponent’s claim.

The old adage, “sticks and stones will break my bones, but words will never hurt me,” applies here. The best advice is to not take the bait and get hooked downstream into a mess you can’t get out of. The problem is that advertising agencies believe that most of us are morons. If they got us to believe that one brand of softer toilet paper will change our attitude, get us a raise and save our marriage, then they think they can convince us that Candidate A is a thief and a liar.

Do the research yourself, find your own answers, ask your own questions; remember, you’re investing in your future, not buying soap.

In the meantime, let’s shove those ad guys in a locker until the election is over. At least that’s what McGregor says.

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