AD Attitude and Negative Political Advertising: Toward a Theoretical Understanding

By Robideaux, Douglas R. | Academy of Marketing Studies Journal, January 1998 | Go to article overview

AD Attitude and Negative Political Advertising: Toward a Theoretical Understanding


Robideaux, Douglas R., Academy of Marketing Studies Journal


INTRODUCTION

Negative political advertising has recently received a substantial amount of attention by both academics and practitioners. Polls show that the public dislikes it, and advertising research indicates that negative ads turn people away from the ads' sponsors. So why do political strategists, as evidenced by their continued use, believe that negative ads are effective? One problem for advertising theorist is that no foundation has been laid that explains the apparent success of negative political advertising.

There are both similarities and differences between the types of ads done by corporations and those done by politicians (McGann, 1988). They've both used a variety of rational and emotional appeals-including fear (LaTour, Snipes & Bliss, 1996)-to influence the public. However, a type of advertising that goods and services marketers have generally avoided is the negative ad campaign. Negative political campaigns have become commonplace on the local and the national level in the United States, and are becoming more common elsewhere. These negative ads (ads that make negative claims about a competitor) have been blamed for increasing distrust of the political process, an increased cynicism and apathy toward politicians, and lower voter turnouts (e.g. Banker, 1992; Merritt, 1984). However true the criticisms may be, there will always be different objectives between traditional marketers and those who market politicians.

Two differences between marketers and political strategists are the concept of (1) market share and (2) time. Traditional marketers, while trying to enhance their own position within a market, also are trying to enhance the overall size and growth of the market. Constant negative comments about competitors' products are likely to taint the market as a whole (Sheeman, Green & Plank, 1991). So the use of negative advertising by business marketers is likely to "turn off" all customers of that product class (e.g., Bissell, 1994; Jaben, 1992). Politicians need not worry about the size and growth of the market (voters). If they or their advertising reduce the size of the total market (voter turnout), it is not a problem as long as they reduce their competitor's votes more than they reduce their own. They need only capture the largest market share (by one vote) at a specific point in time (election day). This is the second difference: marketers try to be competitive on a continuous and long-term basis--not just one day--so they will be more wary of practices that may have short-term results at the expense of the long-term.

Both of these reasons help explain why negative advertising is used, but not whether negative ads work for, or hurt, the sponsor politician in any way. A Gallup Poll (Hume, 1992) taken about 10 days before the 1992 presidential election showed that the majority of voters (57-60%) claimed that the three candidates' ads had no influence on them. Even when the ads had an influence, it was not necessarily positive. For those voters influenced by President Bush's ads, the ads convinced twice as many to vote against Bush than for him (Hume, 1992). Theory does support this view that the attitude toward the ad, and not just the politician, may influence voter behavior (Hill, 1989).

Attitude toward the ad

Attitude is defined as "a learned predisposition to respond in a consistently favorable or unfavorable manner in respect to a given object" (Runyon & Stewart, 1987, p. 460) or as "an individual's internal evaluation of an object such as a branded product" (Mitchell & Olson, 1981, p. 318). Attitudes are composed of the dimensions of (1) affect or feeling, (2) cognition or beliefs, and (3) behavioral intent (Assael, 1998), and are expected to be stable over time.

Ad Attitude is an attitude toward an advertisement which will hopefully "leave consumers with a positive feeling after processing the ad" (Shimp, 1981, p. …

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