Light on Facts but Heavy on Impressions

Light on Facts but Heavy on Impressions



Viewers see more negative advertising in politics than in consumer goods for two reasons. First, since most political contests have only two competitors, negative advertising can work. If a voter turns away from candidate A, they have nowhere to turn but candidate B. And second, accuracy is not required in political advertising. A consumer goods advertiser can be sued by competitors or by the FDA for making false claims and implications. However, courts have given wide latitude to politicians. There are few limits to what they can say and imply.

Voters are skeptical of “facts” because they know the standard for truth is low. But voters have no defense against impressions.

Scary music, a grainy photo of Burke with six guys, and the announcer’s voice over film of a vacant lot leaves an impression.

If viewers reacted to the ad based on its informational content, they might wonder “Is this the worst they can find on Burke?” But viewers don’t react to ads based on their informational content. The ad makes Burke seem a little scary. In a contest in which Walker is the incumbent with tremendous name recognition, it might be enough.

Impressions not facts win political contests.

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