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Political Advertising: Candidates for Sale Essay

The Internet has not diminished the importance of television advertisements in presidential elections. The latter remains to be one of the most effective means of obtaining votes. In as short as 30 seconds, a television advertisement can convince voters about the competence and integrity of a particular candidate. The advertisement “sells” the candidate with as much enthusiasm and gusto as when it is selling products and services (Elliot, n. pag. ). However, political advertisements are not without contention.

Akin to all other forms of advertising, they are subjective. As they are geared towards “selling” specific candidates, it is inevitable for political advertisements to present a biased point of view. Their subjectivity is sometimes obscured by noble trappings that are bombarded with images of American flags, the White House and Mount Rushmore (Elliot, n. pag. ). Despite questions about their reliability, political advertisements will continue to be an indispensable part of presidential campaigns.

Candidates in recent presidential elections have focused their television commercials on “battleground” states such as Ohio and Florida. This trend is expected to increase – there are already about 20 “battleground” states as of this year. In addition, presidential candidates Barack Obama (Democrat) and John McCain (Republican) are both running nationwide advertisements (Elliot, n. pag. ). Political advertising was first developed and used in the mid-19th century.

In order to generate turnout, political parties during this period distributed buttons, banners and posters to voters at local candidate rallies and at polling places on Election Day. But it was not until the advent of mass media in the 20th century that political advertising was elevated to its current status. The first national campaign commercials were broadcasted through radio in 1928 for presidential contenders Herbert Hoover (Republican) and Al Smith (Democrat) (Elliot, n. pag. ).

The arrival of television in 1952 increased the cardinality of political advertisements in presidential campaigns. In the same year, Republican Dwight D. Eisenhower (nicknamed Ike) was promoted in animated commercials that bannered the catchy slogan “I like Ike,” tuning him into the first presidential candidate to appear in television advertisements. These were followed with short commercials entitled Eisenhower Answers America, wherein Eisenhower was featured replying to questions from average voters about issues such as the rising cost of living and the Korean War.

Eisenhower Answers America was frequently played during the commercial breaks of hit sitcoms like I Love Lucy, resulting in its instant popularity among voters. Succeeding presidential candidates followed suit, paying advertising firms millions of dollars to create catchier campaign advertisements for them (Elliot, n. pag. ). What makes political advertising effective is its ability to provide information to a wide audience within a short period of time. Furthermore, the manner in which they transmit information often appeals to the emotions rather than the intellect.

Candidates are packaged as capable and trustworthy leaders who entered public office to serve the ordinary citizen. Candidates are also sometimes portrayed as the long-awaited “alternative” to a “useless” incumbent regime. As a result, the latter often makes political advertisements appear as smear campaigns against political opponents. These negative political advertisements, however, are the types of advertisements that have the greatest impact on people. They impart an overly-simplistic, “us-versus-them” philosophy, which, in the process, does the thinking for the voters.

Consequently, negative political advertisements are very potent campaign materials. They reach everyone, including those who do not pay much attention to the campaign (Elliot, n. pag. ). This need for mobility is the reason for political advertising’s gradual shift from the television to the Internet. Websites such as YouTube. com (http://www. youtube. com) contain countless clips of political advertisements which people can access from virtually anywhere at any time.

In addition, YouTube. om allows its members to post comments on the video clips that they viewed. In the context of political advertising, this can result in discussions that can help sharpen public opinion regarding politics and the electoral process. While negative political advertisements are effective in gaining votes, they are detrimental to American society and politics in the long run. According to Mike Hughes, president of an advertising agency in Richmond, Virginia, negative political advertisements are also untruthful.

They often deceive voters by using stage effects and half-truths that make a candidate appear deserving of the position that he or she is aspiring for. Hughes was quick to add that this was not the fault of advertising agencies – most political advertisements nowadays are created by political consultants who specialize in campaign commercials. Unlike advertising agencies, which face criminal prosecution in the event that they produce inaccurate pitches, these consultants are allowed by the First Amendment to create political spots as part of their right to free speech (Elliot, n. pag. ).

The deceitful usage of political advertisements is very dangerous, as it sends the people, particularly the youth, the message that the only way to get ahead in life is through lying. In addition, voters are tricked into voting leaders who will not think twice about resorting to dishonesty just to get what they want. A leader who got into power through dishonest means will most likely remain in power through dishonest means as well. Thus, there is a big possibility that lying in political advertisements will progress to violation of civil rights and liberties disguised as protection of national security.


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