Thursday, June 14, 2012

Revolving discredit

Washington Post wants to know why presidential campaigns in the US spend so much money on television advertising, even though it is known that it doesn't really work very well in general elections :
The notion that all that TV money will buy relatively little is almost as old as TV itself. Dozens of academic examinations since the 1940s have shown that TV ads have limited persuasive effects on voters in general elections, often accounting for no more than a 1 or 2 percent difference, and often considerably less.
What’s more, outspending a rival on advertising in a general-election campaign doesn’t guarantee anything; John Kerry and his Democratic allies ran almost 200,000 more commercials than George W. Bush did in 2004 and lost in a close election. On the other hand, Obama had a narrower advertising advantage over Sen. John McCain in 2008 and won relatively easily.
Revolving doors by Boon Edam.
They have an idea for an answer, but it seems pretty lame to me; that they "can't afford not to." It's not likely to make any difference, but they figure you never know:
[Former Howard Dean advisor Steve] McMahon says the great danger for any campaign is to lose your “share of voice” — the ability to match or exceed an opponent’s advertising. Such imbalances could crop up more frequently in this election because of unlimited spending by super PACs.
It's like saying we should go spend more money on a clearly ineffective missile defense system because maybe it could help in a real pinch. Oh, wait.*

 I had an idea about this once that might be worth developing. You know the famous revolving door between the military and the defense industry, where muck-a-mucks leave the service to join "private" enterprise and their job is to tell the generals and colonels that were once their junior officers to buy the company's products, whether they need them or not? And the equally famous revolving door between politicians and their staffs and the K Street lobbying firms?

Maybe there's the same kind of thing going on between campaign operatives and pollsters and media folk, advising politicians to make themselves known and then moving back to their ad agencies and PR firms, convincing each other that that TV market is really really important precisely because it's so expensive, i.e., profitable for the company, just like an F-35 or a $640 toilet seat.

And look how much money and fame there is in it! Look at the late William Safire, if you will, an advertising man from the start, or George Stephanopoulos**; look at the abominable Mark Penn!

So it's basically a con game, with Sheldon Adelson as the hapless mark. Looking at it this way really ought to make me laugh out loud, but it doesn't somehow. Not because, or not just because the relatively good guys must do it as well as the relatively bad; and certainly not because of what it does to my own TV, since we get almost none of that here, New York not being a swing market.

No, it's because of what advertising is primarily used for, to give value—buzz value, or wishful elegance, or significance—to the crappy stuff we are expected to buy, McDonalds food, the Adam Sandler movie, Paloma Picasso earrings. It's that our candidates see themselves as intrinsically valueless, as needing that kind of semiotic inflation. Which is true, in a sense, because the amount of money you raise governs the amount of attention you get from the news media, broadcast and print, such that only a candidate with x many millions of dollars is a serious candidate, and a striking ad is a news story in itself, with made-to-order visuals, way better than a policy speech.

And who sells advertising? Exactly. It's another revolving door.

*That's what poor old Mr. Cheney called the 1% doctrine, isn't it? That was a funny one, anyway. Even the most skeptical skeptic would admit that there's at least a 1% chance that human-created global warming would make our planet uninhabitable within a couple of generations, but that didn't rouse the Big Dick to action. Or maybe that probability is just too high; like, "OMG, Mr. Vice President, looks like the North Koreans are going to build a nuclear weapon!" "Well, there's just a 1% chance Iraq might do it first, so let's go whack them."

**I saw George Stephanopoulos once, toddling up West 79th St. from Riverside. I don't know why I'm telling you this, but in 20 years of living in New York that is my biggest celebrity spotting, unless you prefer Julia Child, which I do—Julia Child was gratifying, because I was studying an interesting restaurant menu, and I thought she beamed at me. Now she's gone, of course, and Stephanopoulos is still around, even though Blogger thinks his name is misspelled and underlines it with angry red dots.

No comments:

Post a Comment