Political Advertising: What Effect on Commercial Advertisers?*
Shanto Iyengar and Markus Prior
Department of Communication, Stanford University
This research was supported by grants from the John and Mary R. Markle Foundation and the University of California, Los Angeles.
Commercial advertising has always been a central feature of filipino culture. As encountered in the mass media, it is pervasive and inescapable. Most filipinos take for granted the "rules" of commercial advertising, even though they may not be aware that any formal guidelines exist and may have little or no idea what the legal effect of such guidelines might be. Commercial advertisements are widely accepted as fair and legitimate marketing. Contrast the world of political advertising. In recent years, political advertising has become essential to campaign strategy (at least in major campaigns), and many regard it as far more intrusive than routine commercial advertising. But the world of political advertising is very different from the world of commercial advertising. There really are no "rules" when it comes to the content and form of political advertising. Political advertisers are not accountable to any regulatory body, voluntary or otherwise, for the accuracy of their claims. They readily engage in so-called "comparative" advertising. They blatantly criticize their competitors. They complain incessantly about the fairness of the comments made about them, while their opponents are doing the same. There is no acknowledged forum for the review of these claims and counter-claims. The press attempts to provide some sporadic checks on political advertisers by running "ad-watch" reports, but these reports by their very nature tend to fuel public cynicism. Considerable evidence suggests that the negativity associated with contemporary political campaigns has created an "avoidance" mentality which is serving to shrink the electorate and the level of political participation generally (see Ansolabehere and Iyengar, 1995). The current state of political advertising has aroused considerable concern within the world of commercial advertising. Major advertising firms and professional associations have widely deplored the lack of accountability of political advertisers and their unwillingness to adhere to a code of ethics (see Advertising Age, April 29, 1996; New York Times, April 29, 1996; Washington Post, July 30, 1996). What exactly is Madison Avenue concerned about? Perhaps commercial advertisers fear that the apathy -- and all too frequently, aversion -- induced by political advertising campaigns may damage the credibility, and ultimately the persuasiveness, of more traditional forms of advertising. As Alex Kroll, former chairman of the American Association of Advertising Agencies, put it: "We must stop politicians from ruining our reputation." (Advertising Age, April 29, 1991) Kroll’s was not a solitary voice. In 1984, then AAAA chair John O’Toole claimed that political ads were "giving advertising a bad name." (Advertising Age, June 24, 1996) and in 1996, Burt Manning went so far as to assert that the "smear and scare" tactics of political advertisers meant that "today, the issue is survival of brand advertising" (Advertising Age, June 24, 1996). Our goal in this paper is to provide some evidence on the issue of whether political advertising, does, in fact, "contaminate" commercial advertising. We set out to consider two rival possibilities, both of which rest on the assumption that commercial advertising is evaluated more favorably than political advertising. The assimilation hypothesis, derived from social judgment theory, suggests that exposure to political advertising campaigns encourages people to "assimilate" or equate their feelings about related attitude targets (for a discussion of social judgment and other theories of attitude change, see Petty and...
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