Political advertising: Show Biz
written by Ron:
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“Okay, so your agency is going to handle all of our candidate’s advertising. You won our account because we think you can do the best job of presenting our candidate to the American public, especially in our home state. Our guy has some serious, er, um, uh, let’s call them ‘difficulties’ that you’re going to have to ‘smooth over,’ and make them disappear.”
“Well, thank you, sir, for your trust. We feel confident that with our team of creative advertising and public relations specialists we can present your candidate in the most positive and persuasive manner.”
“As I said, our candidate has some, um, uh, ‘difficulties’ that you’re going to have to, in a way, make disappear. For example, our candidate has a serious stuttering problem, he has also been arrested twice for drunk driving and he’s pro-choice and our state is solidly pro-life. And very importantly, our man is a terrible public speaker. He forgets what he’s saying a lot of the time and with the stuttering we just can’t let him speak in front of an audience. That would kill his chances of being elected. God forbid that our opponent wants to have a televised debate with our candidate.”
“Now, don’t you worry about these things. We feel confident that our advertising and public relations efforts will focus on the candidate’s positive values and we can give the public the picture of the candidate that we want them to see.”
And so, as candidates across the land prepare their campaigns their advertising agencies, public relations groups and political advisors are hard at work preparing the images that we, the voters, will eventually see. In most cases what we see and hear will not necessarily be an accurate facsimile of the candidates themselves. We will see what the candidates’ teams want us to see. In most cases, come election day, we will be voting for or against manipulated images of the candidates. Even the televised debates present the candidates after a team of hair and make up stylists have done their jobs and the candidates have rehearsed their pat answers and charges. Even with the primping and endless rehearsals the debates are the best forum for presenting the candidates to us.
As election day nears, the print and electronic (television, radio, internet) advertising reaches a fever pitch. Millions of dollars are spent to persuade us to bestow our vote on a particular candidate. The charges, counter charges, promises and denials flow like maple syrup. Exaggerations, falsehoods, skewed truths abound.
Perhaps we should return to those days of Abraham Lincoln and Stephen Douglas and their debates held in 1858 in Illinois as Douglas was vying for re-election as state senator from Illinois and Lincoln fought to unseat him.
The format for the Lincoln-Douglas debates was for the first candidate to speak for 60-minutes. The second spoke for ninety-minutes and then the first was allowed a 30-minute rejoinder. No make-up, no hair styles, no Armani suits. The two men stood in front of giant crowds which saw and heard the candidates in all their naturalness, candor and their warts. The wind blew, leaves fell, sun shone and the factual Abraham Lincoln and the bona fide Stephen Douglas presented themselves to Illinois voters. They spoke at each of the nine congressional districts in Illinois. The electorate saw the candidates for what they were.
Today the proficiency of the advertising, public relations and political consultants often presents to us a colorized and sanitized version of the candidates. Flaws are erased and touched up. What remains is often the idealized image of a coifed, decorated, made-up rendition of a candidate.
As an informed electorate we should demand that print and electronic advertising for political candidates be explicit, forthright, honest and factual. It’s unfortunate that the individuals who make the rules for political advertising are the same ones that have successfully ridden their advertising to political victory.