How Effective Are Political Ads?

Bad Political Ads
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How Effective Are Political Ads?

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There's a hole in your pocket...
Bad Political Ads

With the election looming, you’ve likely seen many political advertisements spewing from your TV, radio, newspaper, and just about any other source of media. 

From annoyingly catchy jingles to bizzare animations,

political parties are looking for any competitive edge to win your vote. 

“We have to remember people have a predisposition when it comes to political ads,” says Dr Isaac Cheah, an Associate Professor of Management and Marketing at Curtin University. 

“When it comes to making ads, you have to ask yourself, what do you want people to remember, and what do you want them to take away?”

Anthony Albanese is portrayed as Gollum from the Lord of the Rings series. Source: Australian Liberal Party.

He says for the general population, they’re largely not effective in winning votes. 

“It’s kind of sad because there’s a lot of money put into these ads around election time.”

Interestingly, there are no caps on how much political parties, independent candidates or third parties can spend during a federal election. The Australian Electoral Commission (AEC) reimburses parties according to the share of the primary vote they achieve during the election. 

The last federal election amounted to $70 million in funding. 

So, what makes a good ad work?

“To be honest, a good ad is one I want to watch again and one I want to tell people about,” says Dr Cheah. 

“In a political sense, those kinds of ads are hard to come by.” 

The 5 components that make a good political ad
The components of a good ad, according to Dr Cheah. Photo: Duncan Bailey.

Dr Cheah says positive ads tend to generate positive sentiments, but roughly 90 per cent of political advertising is still negative. 

“People remember bad things more than good experiences,” he says. 

After the 2012 American Presidential election, each election became consecutively more negative than the previous. 

“In 2012, negative ads were around 10 to 40 per cent. In 2016 it was around 90.” 

A study on candidate behaviour found close elections (or the more competitive ones) are not only more negative but actually increase the amount of knowledge voters have on candidates compared to a landslide election. 

He says this is because agencies increase spending radically to make sure they get your vote. 

“At the end of the day, it’s a competition. There should be a level of disclosure that happens, but you want people to be engaged also.”

The leg islation around political ads is loose, to say the least. Political advertisements only need to meet basic requirements: Identify who is behind the ad, and not mislead the public on how to cast a vote. 

The veil around how truthful they are, however, is murky. 

Political ads are not fact-checked by a governing body, meaning there is virtually no oversight. It’s up to the voter to determine what’s true and what’s not. 

Dr Cheah says he thinks the ads could be more objective, but it’s a difficult area to navigate. 

“I don’t know how much can change, because if everything is by the book, it gives very little flexibility for campaigns to run effectively,” says Dr Cheah. 

“As a candidate, you really want to find that sweet spot going into the election.”

He says given the legislation surrounding ads, you can play by the book if you want, but your opponent won’t. 

“Once things get close, the gloves come off. Every edge you get is a competitive edge.” 

Keep up with the election news at So Perth

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