Every election, whether it is an on-year race for the presidency — with a dozen other contests on the ballot — or for a seat vacated mid-term by Jo Bonner or Jeff Sessions, Alabamians are subjected to the same worn-out campaign radio and television commercials.
The ads are entirely predictable. Candidate A’s ad might feature a menacing voice suggesting self-serving graft or corruption by their opponent. Candidate B’s ad responds with folksy voices proclaiming their support for B and why B is “a better choice for Alabama.” The candidates change. The formula and message rarely do.
Have you ever asked yourself this: Who, perhaps driving down Airport Boulevard or on Interstate 10 across Mobile Bay, hears one of those ads on the radio and comes to the conclusion that they must simply vote for candidate A or B based on that advertisement?
Those ads probably influence a very small percentage of the public as a whole. Many people change the station when ads come on, or are oblivious to the fact there is even an upcoming election. And those who are aware and plan on voting have likely already made up their minds.
Politics is a strange business when it comes to money. For some well-funded candidates, the campaign treats funding as if the money might burn a hole in its pocket and spends the cash wherever it can.
Consider the millions of dollars Luther Strange’s supporters have spent to secure his seat in the upcoming special election. An organization such as the Senate Leadership Fund can bombard the airwaves. Some of those ads are head-scratchers: “Mo Brooks is a toady of Nancy Pelosi.” Or “Roy Moore is actually not a zealot, but a snake-oil salesman wanting to get rich off of a religious-based legal nonprofit.”
The people who are aware of next week’s election likely already have an idea about who Moore and Brooks are. So why are these attack ads running in the first place?
When it comes to organizations like the Senate Leadership Fund, they need these off-year special elections to justify their business models. In the lead-up to the 2018 midterms, a fundraiser can go to a wealthy donor and point to the success they had spending money in this special election and convince that donor to write a check.
Some of it is so incestuous that these well-financed storefronts pay their in-house print shops to print those glossy inserts that are in the daily newspaper (or in the case of Mobile, Birmingham and Huntsville, the every-other-daily newspapers). Then later on they can tout the money they spent in a special election to get that candidate elected.
In these cases, the end game is not necessarily to get a radio listener to vote for candidate A or B, but rather to show that the organization worked on behalf of the candidate to get them elected. The goal is actually to get donors to write another check in future races.
Fair enough. It’s a free country. We have a First Amendment. They can do whatever they want to with their money.
But doesn’t it seem a little insulting that these campaigns see voters as mind-numb simpletons swayed by a little folksy dialogue around the kitchen table?
“Sure, let’s blast this out on the local country music station. Those hillbillies will eat this up.”
It’s not just political advertising to which this seems to apply. Watch any college football game or NASCAR race. They think they know the target demographic. They believe a viewer will be swayed by two middle-aged men sitting in a car being goofy to go eat onion rings at a Sonic, or go out and buy a car because, “Love — it’s what makes a Subaru.”
The heartbeat of the marketing world is in New York City on Madison Avenue. The people who work on Madison Avenue want to reach affluent suburbs in Middle America with enough disposable income to buy their products.
Generally, the ad executives determining what appeals to Middle America are not Average Joes from Anywhere, USA. Some are Ivy League educated. They live in New York City, where life is different from anywhere else in America. In fact, they probably have very little in common with their target audiences — from education to lifestyle to worldview.
Just consider the politics. There is an institutional left-of-center bias. It might not be intentional in most cases, but it is still there. Have you ever wondered why so many commercials for products such as soda, cars and box stores end up pushing globalism, environmentalism and diversity?
“For every $1 spent at company Y, we’re giving .00001 cents to the Global Whale Saving Fund. Making a difference, it is what we do.”
There is a lot of money in advertising, which is to be expected in a consumer-driven economy. If marketers, pushing both in products and candidates, want to get the max effect per dollar spent, it might be time to reconsider the assumption that we are all rubes. Otherwise, people will just tune it out. Many already have.