Throughout the long and proud history of Readers Rate the Ads, we have treated political ads the same way most of you have – ignoring them.
After all, there was no point in evaluating them from the standpoint of artistic merit or cleverness. Political ads on television come in just two flavors and no deviations from the script are permitted.
Political ad type 1: Meet the candidate. Warm color images of the candidate with the happy family, the happy family dog, listening earnestly to constituents, humbly describing his humble background, pledging to “fight” for consumers, small-business owners, kids, seniors, the vulnerable, pledging to “fight” against the special interests (never specified, lest the list inconveniently include those who are bankrolling said candidate’s campaign).
Political ad type 2: The attack. Grainy black-and-white photos of the opponent with lurid newspaper headlines and quotes (proper context not required) splashed across them, while a narrator ominously intones the devious cruelties said candidate is planning to inflict on consumers, small-business owners, kids, seniors and the vulnerable on behalf of special interests bankrolling the campaign.
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But ignoring political ads is a more challenging proposition these days. TV ads can be dodged with dexterous manipulation of the mute or fast-forward buttons (changing the channel won’t help; the same ads are over there too). In print, the reader can turn the page.
Those strategies won’t help with the proliferation of yard signs (or more properly, roadside and median-strip signs) that litter the landscape, or the ads that pop up on virtually every website one visits.
So in issuing our annual call for nominations for ads good and bad, amusing and infuriating, clever and stupid, effective and baffling, moving and revolting, we’re also looking for your thoughts on political ads.
Not specific ads for specific candidates – we’ll leave those brawls for the comment sections on stories. Instead, what’s your take on the whole concept of political advertising?
It’s obviously a source of revenue for the media outlets that run the ads and those who produce them.
But does it make any difference to you the reader, viewer and voter? Do they work? Has a political ad ever influenced your vote (even if to vote against the candidate sponsoring the ad)? Do you get any useful information from political ads (compared with news reports, voter guides and conversations with family, friends or colleagues)? Do you even notice them?
How about those ubiquitous roadside signs? Does seeing eleventy-seven signs in a five-block section of road from one candidate impress you, annoy you or make you wonder who is going to clean up that mess when the election is over? Do you even notice them amid the normal clutter of roadside signs for housing developments, movers, painters and work-from-home and weight-loss schemes?
A lot of questions, but not idle ones. Political advertising is overdue for the sort of revolution that has swept through other types of ads. Candidates pour money into TV ads and blight the landscape with signs because everyone else does; there’s an inherent fear of what happens if they don’t. But at some point some candidate is going to decide that’s neither necessary nor effective and stop doing it. If that candidate is successful in spite of or because of that decision. ...
So that’s what we want you to ruminate on. We also want your nominations for best and worst of ads for the past year. With such ad-rich venues as the Olympics and the start of prime-time and football seasons, you’ve got a lot of material to work with.
Send your comments and nominations to the email address below, and we’ll report on the results in an upcoming column.
In keeping with the political theme – vote early and often.
Bill Virgin is editor and publisher of Washington Manufacturing Alert and Pacific Northwest Rail News. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.