Political ads crowd out common sense and commerce

Gird your loins, batten down the hatches, hide the children, stock up on Dramamine, and take your eccentric uncle’s Cold War-era survival bunker out of mothballs. If you can afford it, put your head in cryogenic freeze in anticipation of the day when there’s a cure for Newt Gingrich. Political ads are about to flood the airwaves, and television will soon see its full potential realized, nourishing our minds and entertaining us with all the exquisite grace and power of Carrot Top doing prop comedy at a Scientology convention.

Here in Wisconsin, we’re about to get a double dose, with an impending gubernatorial recall to go along with another presidential election season.

Of course, you could make the argument that the coming advertising frenzy is a good thing, if you believe that any stimulus, no matter where it comes from or where it goes, is beneficial to the economy. According to at least one source, political spending nationwide could rise 30% this year, to an astonishing $4 billion. A sizable chunk of that will flow into the coffers of local radio and TV stations, which provide jobs, produce newscasts, and (mostly) entertain us.

On the other hand, there’s only so much airtime available to buy, and that flood of ads could crowd out more legitimate commerce. For instance, if a Mitt Romney ad informs me of Barack Obama’s ties to failed solar energy giant Solyndra and the president’s college fraternity puppy-eating days as a probationary member of the reptilian overlord Illuminati, it will occupy a slot that could have been used to tell me about the latest Chipmunks movie.

Seriously, though, such a scenario does pose a real problem for traditional advertisers, as discussed in this December MediaPost.com article, which is also linked to above.

To quote the article:

“As if marketers didn’t have enough to worry about in 2012, with troubling signs that the economy will remain less than robust, they will also have politicians and their war chests interfering with planned media campaigns for the coming year.

“That’s the word from MediaVest, which has issued new research to clients predicting that ad inventory during the upcoming political year will be tighter than ever, given the record dollars that politicians will raise and spend next year in their bids to get elected.

“The biggest crunch will come at the local level. In 2008, roughly 85% of measured media advertising placed for the November general election was in local TV, where political ads take precedence over those from regular marketers.”

So not only is political advertising about as noxious as it gets, you could at least begin to make the argument that it’s bad for the economy because it makes it harder for businesses to sell goods and services.

I don’t know about you, but the last two waves of political ads nearly killed me. (Seriously, my batch of homemade bathtub Prozac went bad after I tried to add Kahlua.) The answer is not to turn off the TV, because then the politicians win. Netflix streaming is one answer, but there are only so many wryly understated BBC productions you can watch before you want to come back to this country.

One basic rule of thumb that I’m embarrassed to even mention because it’s so obvious: Don’t believe a thing you see on a political TV ad. Not one thing. Whether it supports your favorite candidate or excoriates the politician you loathe more than gout, it’s all garbage.

There’s a kernel of truth in every ad, but it’s the kind of truth you’d see on a junk food label. Yes, your favorite mass-produced fruit pie no longer has trans fat, but it still has enough saturated fat in it to kill an adolescent porpoise. The truth you see right in front of you is just a guileful, inelegant half-truth.

So try your best to enjoy this coming political year. It could get particularly ugly. I’ll be in my survival bunker watching Miss Marple.

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