Political Ads: Go Negative or Go Home

With this past week’s Republican and Democratic National Conventions, we officially kicked off the 2012 election. Now, we must prepare for the storm of political ads that are about to hit the airwaves. While both candidates have been running ads for months, their ad spending will increase big time over the next two months. Much of this advertising will be negative and misleading.

When asked, most people say they hate negative ads and mudslinging, so why do so many politicians do it? Because negativity works.

One UCLA professor found that after viewing a negative ad about their candidate, people were less likely to identify with that candidate. In another study, a Stanford communications professor found that negative ads can be a big factor in whether or not people decide to vote at all. For people who support the attacker, a negative ad makes them more likely to vote. For people who support the ad’s victim, a negative ad makes them depressed and less likely to vote.

Why do negative ads resonate more than positive ones? CNN guest blogger Ruthann Weaver Lariscy offers three reasons.
1) It’s easier to remember bad stuff. This applies to ads and in life. For example, no matter how many compliments you get about your work, you’re more likely to remember that one jerk who told you it was crap.
2) Negative ads are more complex. Often, the messaging in positive ads is easy to comprehend whereas negative ads require more thought; you have to figure out what is being implied versus what is being said.
3) Negative ads get stuck in your subconscious. Because negative information takes the brain more time to digest, it stays lodged in your memory longer than the positive stuff. You’re more likely to remember an ad’s negative information months later but less likely to remember you got the information from an ad. That can be especially damaging for the ad’s victim, especially if you remember the information right before you vote.

While we may not like negative advertising, we can all understand why candidates choose to do it. There’s a lot riding on election day and that kind of pressure makes you desperate, so desperate you’ll do just about anything to win, even run ads so full of lies they put the old patent medicine ads to shame. When it comes to negativity, this year’s candidates are no better; the upcoming election is predicted to be one of the most negative races in recent history.

For that reason, we suggest digging a hole in the sand and sticking your head in it until November 6. It’s the only way to avoid being poisoned by all the bad advertising that’s sure to follow in the next few weeks.