Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

'I Approve This Message' - Do You Really? Exhibition Explores How Ads Affect Voters' Emotions and, Sometimes, Their Votes

Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

'I Approve This Message' - Do You Really? Exhibition Explores How Ads Affect Voters' Emotions and, Sometimes, Their Votes

Article excerpt

When Harriett Levin Balkind founded HonestAds in 2014, her vision for the nonprofit organization was to bring to light the deception in political advertising, a vision fueled by months of knocking on doors in presidential swing states.

"What I learned was, people were mad as hell about all the lying in politics. But it intrigued me that they might be mad, but they still voted for the people who were lying to them," Ms. Balkind said. "That's fascinating, because if my child or friend or business partner or mate lied to me, I would probably kick them out the door or at least deal with it. Why do they still vote for these people?

"That led me down the rabbit hole of learning about the emotion ... and why people actually vote for the candidates they do," she said.

Fast forward to 2016, and the debut of the first exhibition of presidential political ads, "I Approve This Message: Decoding Political Ads" at the Toledo Museum of Art. The exhibition, which opened July 14 and runs through Nov. 8, is housed in the museum's Canaday Gallery and is co-curated by Ms. Balkind and the museum's associate director, Adam Levine.

Let it be known that the exhibition, which is presented through political ads shown on national television between 1952 and 2012, is not about politics. It's about the people who have voted for the nation's presidents over the decades and how the ads got them there. Avoiding this year's controversial presidential campaign was intentional. It's not over, and the intent of the exhibition is not to sway current voters.

"This is not an exhibition about politics. This is an exhibition about voters - how voters feel emotion and how voters make decisions, in this instance, who to vote for on the basis of emotional triggers," Mr. Levine said.

Through videos, graphics and multimedia displays in five different theaters, the show plays off the emotions of fear, anger, pride and hope. It strives to do what Ms. Balkind did in those neighborhoods years ago: decipher what makes the voting public tick.

Dwight Eisenhower was the first presidential candidate to take a stab at persuasive advertising in the 1952 race with a cartoon "I Like Ike" ad. That ad was followed by decades of others using colorful photographic and verbal portrayals of candidates, catchy music, both joyful and distressed citizens, law enforcement officials and unflattering visuals of opponents.

In 1964, Lyndon B. Johnson's ad "Daisy Girl" shocked the world with its depiction of a young girl pulling the petals off a daisy, followed by a daunting countdown that ends in nuclear annihilation.

In Walter Mondale's "Teach Your Parents" ad during the 1984 election against Ronald Reagan, sweet, innocent-looking children are contrasted against fear-evoking images of missiles and nuclear implosions, all to the sound of Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young's "Teach Your Children. …

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