Differential Linguistic Content of Various Forms of Political Advertising
Gunsch, Mark A., Brownlow, Sheila, Haynes, Sarah E., Mabe, Zachary, Journal of Broadcasting & Electronic Media
"You sell your candidates ... the way a business sells its products" one-time Republican National Chair Leonard Hall noted. One of the most effective methods to "sell' candidates is televised advertising (Hacker & Swan, 1992), which is designed to provide viewers with information about current issues (Haddock & Zanna, 1997; Kaid & Sanders, 1978) as well as the traits and qualifications of candidates and opponents (Christ, Thorson, & Caywood, 1994; Kahn & Geer, 1994; Shyles, 1984). There is a link between political advertising and attitudes toward the political process and voting, as ads may increase general awareness despite negative reactions to them (Austin & Pinkleton, 1995; Johnson-Cartee & Copeland, 1991). Given that candidates typically spend over 60 percent of their campaign budget on television advertising (Devlin, 1993; Kaid, Gobetz, Garner, Leland, & Scott, 1993), and over 200 million dollars (part of which comes from taxpayers) is spent on TV ads during a campaign (West, 1994/1995), examination of the linguistic construction of various political ads is important.
Televised political advertising can take many forms. Positive ads promote the personal characteristics of the sponsoring candidate in attempt to convince people that the candidate has strong leadership abilities and other favorable qualities (Basil, Schooler, & Reeves, 1991). Such ads focus on the good things that the candidate has done or will do, and may not tacitly or explicitly mention the opponent. Negative ads are intended to make the opposing candidate look bad by attacking personal characteristics, political issues, or affiliated party (Garramone, 1984; Haddock & Zanna, 1997; Stewart, 1975). Negative ads may not even note the name of the sponsor (Homer & Batra, 1994). Finally, some political ads may contain elements of both positive and negative ads in order to promote the sponsor while denigrating the target (Newhagen & Reeves, 1991). These comparative or mixed-format ads are designed to hurt the opponent (Merritt, 1984) and to engender positive feelings about the sponsor (Budesheim, Houston, & DePaola, 1996).
Positive, negative, and mixed (comparative) ads have distinctly different formats: most attention has been given to the content and effects of negative ads. A positive ad includes the candidate, highlighting character or issues, without mentioning the opponent (Basil et al., 1991). If candidates discuss issues in these ads, the ad tends to be evaluated more highly (Kaid & Sanders, 1978). Negative ads take several varied formats (Johnson-Cartee & Copeland, 1991), although they often employ a narrator to impugn the ethics or abilities of the opposing candidate (Procter & Schenck-Hamlin, 1996). Johnson-Cartee & Copeland (1991) describe 11 distinct presentation methods in negative ads (ranging from "person-in-the-street" interviews to mock news bulletins), all of which have one common element: the sponsoring candidate never appears. Different types of negative ads utilize varied argumentation formats, including direct attack, implied comparison (where the opponent is never mentioned, and the sponsor is only mentioned as a "tag" at the end), and direct comparison (which explicitly contrasts the sponsor and the opponent). Although containing negative components, the direct comparison ad can also be classified as a comparative or mixed ad, as it describes positive aspects about the sponsor while attacking the opponent.
Immediate affective reactions as well as the long-term effects (on voting, attitudes toward politics and advertising, etc.) of negative ads provide insight as to why candidates employ them. Negative ads were once considered a tool used only by politicians who were untrustworthy and immature. These ads now account for over half of ad budgets (Johnson-Cartee & Copeland, 1989). Candidates may choose to use negative ads in their campaigns for good reason; for example, some incumbents have been defeated in part because they refused to answer negative ads (Johnson-Cartee & Copeland, 1989). Although many think negative ads are unethical (Surlin & Gordon, 1977) and disapprove of them (Garramone, 1984), some voters are more likely to remember negative ads (Christ et al., 1994; Pinkleton, 1997). Negative ads (especially those perceived to contain a kernel of truth; Garramone, 1984) can be effective for candidates who are behind in a political race, increasing simple name recognition (Merritt, 1984). Negative ads may provide information about political contests (Roddy & Garramone, 1988), and are perceived as particularly informative by those voters who value advertising as an important source of political information (Surlin & Gordon, 1977). Moreover, negative ads may be memorable (Garramone, 1984; Johnson-Cartee & Copeland, 1989), possibly because such ads arouse emotion (Pinkleton, 1997) and initiate thought about the political process in general (Austin & Pinkleton, 1995). People process negative information faster (Newhagen & Reeves, 1991) and more deeply (Johnson-Cartee & Copeland, 1989) than positive information, making that information salient as they ponder claims (Faber, Tims, & Schmitt, 1993).
There may be unintended effects associated with sponsoring a negative ad, although such effects vary by voter population (Johnson-Cartee & Copeland, 1991). The victim syndrome occurs when the target is seen positively because of the negative ad, whereas a double impairment occurs when both the sponsor and target are seen negatively (Merritt, 1984). The backlash (or boomerang) effect occurs when the sponsor (but not the target) is seen more negatively. A backlash effect may be avoided if the negative ad is sponsored by someone other than the candidate (Garramone, 1985), although the effects are exacerbated if the ad attacks the character (rather than issue stance) of a target (Roddy & Garramone, 1988), or if charges are perceived as undocumented (Roese & Sande, 1993).
The influence of comparative ads has received less attention in the literature, although these, like negative ads, seem to produce a mixed pattern of findings. In many respects, comparative ads may be like negative ads, because they contain attack elements (Johnson-Cartee & Copeland, 1991). Hill (1989) found that the sponsors of mixed ads were viewed as poorly as they were when they produced negative ads, although Pinkleton (1997) reported that sponsors of mixed ads were not perceived badly. Effects on the target have also varied, as in some cases the ad does not lower perceptions of the target (Hill, 1989) while in others it does (Pinkleton, 1997). Such discrepant findings may be due to generalized negative affect toward political advertising (Hill, 1989), or may be a function of the amount of negativity in the ads, as those ads with many damaging items are less well-received than those with a better balance of positive and negative elements (Pinkleton, 1997).
Various forms of advertising produce differential reactions on the part of voters. While affective and cognitive reactions to ads have been documented, little is known about how language is used to construct different types of ads. On an individual level and in everyday conversation, people select and use different types of language, and we form impressions of people's character and abilities based on such language selections (cf. Berry, Pennebaker, Mueller, & Hiller, 1997). It is likely that the language used in ads may reflect an advertiser's perception of what will influence voters. The goal of our study was to describe language use in the three different types of …
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Publication information: Article title: Differential Linguistic Content of Various Forms of Political Advertising. Contributors: Gunsch, Mark A. - Author, Brownlow, Sheila - Author, Haynes, Sarah E. - Author, Mabe, Zachary - Author. Journal title: Journal of Broadcasting & Electronic Media. Volume: 44. Issue: 1 Publication date: Winter 2000. Page number: 27. © 2009 Broadcast Education Association. COPYRIGHT 2000 Gale Group.
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