Why Does Political Advertising Rely So Much on the Negative?

By Fletcher, Winston | Marketing, April 26, 2001 | Go to article overview

Why Does Political Advertising Rely So Much on the Negative?


Fletcher, Winston, Marketing


Even as I write, the creatives are giving the campaigns their final tweak. The spin doctors have spun them, the focus groups have focused on them, the leaders have given them the thumbs up. And we, the voters, are about to be bombarded with a fusillade of ads in which each major political party rubbishes the other.

Why are political ads so negative? If top marketing companies, which know a thing or two about effective advertising, sell brands by promoting their virtues, why do political parties do nothing but hurl abuse at their opponents?

The most widely accepted explanation is that voters now think politicians are such shysters that negative ads are the only ones they will believe. The public, the sceptics claim, know politicians' promises aren't worth the manifestos they are printed on.

This may be true, but it is not the whole truth. Contrary to popular belief, little political advertising is designed to switch voters from one side to the other. Most political ads intend to convince existing voters to remain loyal.

Political campaigns aim to encourage wobbly supporters to stop wobbling and enthusiastic supporters to get campaigning. There is no better way to inspire your own troops, as every General knows, than by reminding them what a bunch of bastards the enemy are.

Moreover, except for the issue of Europe, the gulf between the two main parties is quite narrow. The strategic objectives of New Labour and the Tories are barely distinguishable: low inflation, high employment, less crime, more punishment, better heath, better education, better care for the elderly. Both parties have the same fundamental aims, they just disagree on how to achieve them. …

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