The Power of Political Advertising

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    • 00:00


    • 00:11

      LYNN VAVRECK: Hi, my name is Lynn Vavreck,and I'm a professor of political science and communicationstudies at UCLA.I'm also a contributing columnist to the Upshotat the New York Times, and a fellow at the Andrew F.Carnegie Corporation.Today we're going to talk about the powerof political advertising and why advertising, but especiallypolitical advertising, is a very special medium

    • 00:34

      LYNN VAVRECK [continued]: for communication.The number one reason that advertisingis powerful and so special is that it combinesthe things that you see, and the things that you hear,and the things that you read all into one moment, which,sometimes can lead you into drawing inferences

    • 00:55

      LYNN VAVRECK [continued]: that any individual part of that advertisementisn't explicitly making.And sometimes, those inferences can be misleading.So we're going to talk about exactly what the componentsof advertising are.And we're going to do an example.And then, you'll watch some ads, and we'lltalk about how these things work in real political advertising.

    • 01:21

      LYNN VAVRECK [continued]: So the first thing to recognize about campaign advertising,specifically at the presidential level,is that candidates spend a tremendous amountof money on campaign ads.They clearly think that campaign advertising affectsthe outcomes of elections.Now, what we know about this is that the effects of ads

    • 01:42

      LYNN VAVRECK [continued]: are real.But they're very small, and they go away very fast.This is why you see so much campaign advertising.It's a little bit like an arms race.If my opponent runs 10 ads, then I betterrun 10 to neutralize or to displace the effect.But because the effects of advertising go away so fast,

    • 02:06

      LYNN VAVRECK [continued]: he's got to run 10 more adds the next day or the day after that.And I've got to run 10 more ads.And so pretty soon, you get a lot of ads in repetitionfrom both sides.If you're lucky enough to live in a presidential battlegroundstate, you know exactly what I'm talking about.But for those of us in California,we rarely see presidential ads, because our state's not

    • 02:27

      LYNN VAVRECK [continued]: competitive.So the next time that you bemoan all those ads,you can think of people like us, who don't evenget to see one or two of them.So advertising is special and unique.And here's why.We want to think about two dimensions, what we hear

    • 02:50

      LYNN VAVRECK [continued]: and what we see in advertising.And so, the things that we see canbe broken down into visual images on the screen or wordsthat we're reading.And think about, just for a minute, how sometimes you'llsee an image and also read a word.And so those two things together can sometimes be special.

    • 03:13

      LYNN VAVRECK [continued]: They'll lead you to a conclusion that isn't therewhen you're just doing one of those things, seeing the imageor reading the word.And then, think about things that you hear.You'll hear sounds or music or words.Sometimes a voice-over person will be saying somethingat the same time that music is playing, at the same time

    • 03:37

      LYNN VAVRECK [continued]: that you'll be hearing sounds.And in presidential campaign ads,we typically hear sounds, like sometimes chirping birds,or beating hearts, or ticking clocks.There are lots of unusual sounds thathappen in these presidential campaign ads.And I encourage you to go watch some ads,

    • 03:57

      LYNN VAVRECK [continued]: and listen for all these background sounds.And think about the things that they're supposed to be doing.But, again, it's the conflation of all those sounds togetherthat gives the audio special boost, leading youto possible conclusions that any one of those pieces of audioalone would not have led you to.

    • 04:17

      LYNN VAVRECK [continued]: And then, if we sandwich it all together,the things that you see and the things that you hear,that's where we're really making magic.And so advertising has this possibilityto lead you to a place that no single element wouldhave led you.And sometimes, that's going to be powerful, and emotional,

    • 04:38

      LYNN VAVRECK [continued]: and suggestive.And sometimes it's going to be all those things,and also misleading.And so you want to be a careful consumerof political advertising.So let's practice doing that.We're going to pretend to make an ad.

    • 04:59

      LYNN VAVRECK [continued]: And imagine that we want our ad to be about health care.And we want to drive home the fact that,let's just make up a number.44 million Americans are uninsured.That's the fact that we want to make our ad about.But we really want this ad to resonate with people.

    • 05:19

      LYNN VAVRECK [continued]: So let's say we start with a really cute image,an image of children playing in a park or just having funtogether.And they seem happy enough.And then, we'll add something to that image.We'll add an announcer, a voice-over, someonewith a very significant and influential sounding voice

    • 05:42

      LYNN VAVRECK [continued]: saying, in America today, health care is a big problem.And so now, think about the listeneror the viewer of our ad.They've heard someone say, in America, health care'sa big problem.And then, boom, we've shown them an image of children.

    • 06:04

      LYNN VAVRECK [continued]: Right there, what is that viewer supposed to conclude?In America, health care's a big problem.And then we see kids.Well, the logical conclusion, the inferenceis that in America health care's a big problem for kids.But we haven't said that.We haven't written that on the screen.

    • 06:25

      LYNN VAVRECK [continued]: All we've done is show a picture and say something.And both the picture and the thing we said,there's nothing wrong with them.But we sandwiched them together, and we've nowmade people do something a little bit extra.And then, say, we want to write something on the screen rightafter we show the image and say health care's a problem.

    • 06:47

      LYNN VAVRECK [continued]: Say we're going to write on the screen for peopleto read, not here, but to read 44 million uninsured.So now, we've got three elements to our commercial.The commercial starts.The voice-over person says, in America, health care'sa big problem.Fade in the image of the kids.

    • 07:09

      LYNN VAVRECK [continued]: And then, boom, 44 million uninsuredappears at the bottom of the image.Now we've added another element for peopleto make an inference from, that health care in Americais a problem for kids, and there are 44 million uninsured kids

    • 07:29

      LYNN VAVRECK [continued]: in America.And that's a problem.And we've done this in four seconds.None of it is untrue, except when taken together.Because where we started was I said,let's stipulate that it's 44 million people.But we've made an ad that leads our viewersto conclude it's 44 million children, therefore,

    • 07:51

      LYNN VAVRECK [continued]: pulling on their heart strings, making them,perhaps, slightly more sympathetic to reformof the health care system.None of it's untrue, but the inference peoplemake is not correct.That's the kind of thing to watch outfor in political advertising and in advertising, in general.And you want to be a smart consumer of these ads.

    • 08:13

      LYNN VAVRECK [continued]: Now, sometimes, they're not asking youto draw a misleading inference.I don't want to suggest that candidates are constantlytrying to trick us.But they are using these tools to lead youto a place, sometimes emotionally, sometimeswith facts or information.But a place that, perhaps, you would not

    • 08:34

      LYNN VAVRECK [continued]: have gotten to if you would only read the script of the ador only seen the images of the ad.What I want to encourage you to dois to go watch some political advertisements.There are lots of places you could do this.YouTube is a great place to go watch political ads.

    • 08:57

      LYNN VAVRECK [continued]: Candidates' websites is a great placeto go watch political ads.And there's a great exhibit at the American Museumof the Moving Image, called The Living Room Candidate.And you can watch all the presidential ads from 1952forward at that website.So go watch some ads, and you'll see some really interestingthings.

    • 09:22

      LYNN VAVRECK [continued]: One of my favorite ads is the very first political adever run on television.It's 1952.And it's an ad run by Dwight Eisenhower.And the name of the ad is Ike for President.In this ad, you're going to notice a couple of things.First, it's a cartoon.That may seem surprising, but it's

    • 09:44

      LYNN VAVRECK [continued]: the beginning of television as a medium,and they're still trying to figure out whatto do with this moving image.They're not sure.And so, cartoons or drawing-- because it's like still images,but it can move-- is one of the first places they go.So it's a catchy tune.I promise you, if you go watch it,you'll be humming that tune all day long.

    • 10:05

      LYNN VAVRECK [continued]: And the ad portrays, Ike, as the war hero that he is.And it has all these people in a parade, marching, Ike.Where, to Washington?And there are several moments in this ad, whereyou can see the ad-makers doing the kinds of thingswe've talked about.When they say we'll march from day to night,

    • 10:26

      LYNN VAVRECK [continued]: and the ad turns from bright until dark,there's something in the background that'sworth your paying attention to.There's someone going the other way, opposite of the parade.Who is that person?If you pay a little bit of attention,you'll find out that that's Adlai Stevenson,the Democratic candidate in 1952.

    • 10:47

      LYNN VAVRECK [continued]: And just as the song says, we'll let Adlai go the other way,the donkey is marching in the darkbecause it's night, back, away from Washington.And so in this way, the ad is playful.It's visually entertaining, drawing your focus in.And if you weren't paying that much attention,

    • 11:07

      LYNN VAVRECK [continued]: you might go back and watch againto see who's in the parade.It's all kinds of people-- firemen, doctors,businesspeople, housewives.But they have some things in common.For example, they're all white.And there are no minority faces in this 1952 Eisenhower ad.

    • 11:28

      LYNN VAVRECK [continued]: So spend a little time thinking about why that is.The commercial is meant to suggestthat all people, everybody, wants Ike for president.But, yet, some groups are left out.All of these decisions are made on purpose.[VIDEO PLAYBACK]

    • 11:50

      LYNN VAVRECK [continued]: -Ike for president.Ike for president.Ike for president.Ike for president.You like Ike.I like Ike.Everybody likes Ike for president.Bring out the banner.Beat the drums.We'll take Ike to Washington.We don't want John or Dean or Harry.Let's do that big job right.Let's get in step with the guy that's hep.Get in step with Ike.You like Ike.

    • 12:11

      LYNN VAVRECK [continued]: I like Ike.Everybody likes Ike for president.Hang out the banners.Beat the drum.We'll take Ike to Washington.We've got to get where we are going,travel day and night for president.Let Adlai go the other way.We all go with Ike.You like Ike.I like Ike.Everybody likes Ike for president.Hang out the banner, Beat the drum.

    • 12:33

      LYNN VAVRECK [continued]: We'll take Ike to Washington.We'll take Ike to Washington.-Now is the time for all good Americansto come to the aid of their country.[END PLAYBACK]

    • 12:53

      LYNN VAVRECK: Another great example of a campaign adthat juxtaposes the things you hear with the things you seeis the most famous attack ad possibly ever runin presidential elections.And that's a Lyndon Johnson ad from 1964 called the DaisySpot, or the Daisy Girl.

    • 13:13

      LYNN VAVRECK [continued]: In this advertisement, the key thing that I want you to noticeis that Lyndon Johnson, in this ad,never mentions Barry Goldwater.So we know the ad is about Goldwater.We know that the ad is suggesting that Goldwateris an extremist, who is going to get us into nuclear war,

    • 13:36

      LYNN VAVRECK [continued]: that he's too dangerous to win this election.But nowhere in the ad is the word Goldwater ever mentioned.It is a powerful, powerful attack ad.In fact, it was deemed so egregious,that it only ran once, and then, gotcovered on major news outlets for how over the top

    • 13:58

      LYNN VAVRECK [continued]: It was, in terms of its level of attack.The ad juxtaposes very nicely.A cute little girl, playing in the field,plucking the petals of a black-eyed Susan,and counting 1, 2, 3.It's not an education policy ad.She does count wrong, in the wrong order,

    • 14:18

      LYNN VAVRECK [continued]: but that adds to her vulnerability.And then, in a single moment, youhear something in the background.And I want you to go back and watch the ad,and pay attention to that moment whereshe stops plucking the petals.Because it's the audio that's goingto cue in that something drastic and dire is about to happen.

    • 14:40

      LYNN VAVRECK [continued]: And you'll hear the audio, and then, you'llhear a metallic sound, as the countdown starts to happen.So she's counting up, plucking the petals of the daisy.But the nuclear countdown then begins, 10, 9, 8.And the juxtaposition of the vulnerable little girl counting

    • 15:01

      LYNN VAVRECK [continued]: forward, and the nuclear countdown counting backwards,as the camera zooms in on her eye.Why her eye?Why does the ad maker take us into her eye?Because the eye is the window to the soul.So we're seeing directly into this little girl's fear

    • 15:22

      LYNN VAVRECK [continued]: and vulnerability in that moment in the ad.And then, the provocative and tremendous momentof this ad, where we are in her eye and the bombexplodes into the mushroom cloud,that is essentially her eye.And that is the part of the ad that I think most people

    • 15:43

      LYNN VAVRECK [continued]: deemed, crossed the line.At this point, nothing has been said about Lyndon Johnson,about Barry Goldwater.It's just a little girl in a field with a flower,and a nuclear countdown, and a mushroom cloud.Those are the only images and the only sounds.And yet, everybody in the countryknew, the minute they saw this ad, that this was an attack

    • 16:04

      LYNN VAVRECK [continued]: ad on Barry Goldwater.And it was meant to define him.The ad ran in September of 1964, September 7,before the campaign really heated up.It was aired early, and it was meantto define him straight away, as being someonewho could not have their finger on the button in the WhiteHouse.

    • 16:25

      LYNN VAVRECK [continued]: [VIDEO PLAYBACK]-1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 7, 6, 6, 8, 9, 9.

    • 16:47

      LYNN VAVRECK [continued]: -10, 9, 8, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2, 1, 0.[EXPLOSION]These are the stakes, to make a worldin which all of God's children can live,

    • 17:08

      LYNN VAVRECK [continued]: or to go into the dark.We must either love each other or we must die.-Vote for President Johnson on November 3.The stakes are too high for you to stay home.[END PLAYBACK]

    • 17:31

      LYNN VAVRECK: And then, finally, on a different note,one of the most positive ads in presidential campaign history.Ronald Reagan's ad in 1984, part of the Morningin America series, an ad called Prouder, Stronger, Better.This series of ads is really evocative.And in the same way as the Johnson Daisy ad,

    • 17:52

      LYNN VAVRECK [continued]: it juxtaposes sounds and images in a particular wayto create a nostalgia for a better time.In this ad, the better time is now.But the nostalgia aspect of it ismeant to say we can get back to this place we werebefore everything went bad.

    • 18:15

      LYNN VAVRECK [continued]: And the tag line of this ad, why would wewant to go back to where we were only four short years ago?You'll hear that over and over again in the ad.And I want you to watch the ad and counthow many times you see an American flag in this ad.The ad starts with a voice-over announcer saying, "It's

    • 18:36

      LYNN VAVRECK [continued]: morning again in America."And you'll hear that multiple times in the ad too.But he says, more people will go to work todaythan have ever gone to work in our country's history.And so the ad, throughout its entirety,is asking you to make a retrospective judgmentabout Ronald Reagan's presidency.

    • 18:56

      LYNN VAVRECK [continued]: Are you doing better off than you were four years ago?Is the country doing better than it was four years ago?The answer to all these questions are going to be yes.And the ad does this through a filter,a sort of golden haze, that makes everythinglook like it's morning.And people are getting married, and they're building houses.And they're moving into new homes,

    • 19:17

      LYNN VAVRECK [continued]: and they're having babies.All sorts of good things are happening to people.And the ad then juxtaposes the ideathat it's Ronald Reagan that brought youall of these good things.And why would you want to go back?[VIDEO PLAYBACK]-It's morning again in America.Today, more men and women will go

    • 19:38

      LYNN VAVRECK [continued]: to work than ever before in our country's history.With interest rates at about half the record highs of 1980,nearly 2,000 families today will buy new homes,more than at any time in the past four years.This afternoon, 6,500 young men and women will be married.And with inflation of less than half

    • 20:00

      LYNN VAVRECK [continued]: of what it was just four years ago,they can look forward with confidence to the future.It's morning again in America.And under the leadership of President Reagan,our country is prouder and stronger and better.Why would we ever want to return to where we were

    • 20:22

      LYNN VAVRECK [continued]: less than four short years ago.[END PLAYBACK]

    • 20:33

      LYNN VAVRECK: So three great ads for youto watch and apply these tools, looking for the waysthat ad makers are juxtaposing what you hearand what you see to bring you to a placethat you otherwise would not have gotten to, if you wereonly watching or only hearing.And then, of course, you can watchcampaign ads that are currently on TV and do the same thing.

    • 21:01

      LYNN VAVRECK [continued]: So now, you can think about some questions thatare derived from this material.So the first one, I think is important.And that is, does political advertising aimedto purposefully mislead people?And I want you guys to think about that.Because, again, I want to be clear.I'm not suggesting that candidates or campaigns

    • 21:23

      LYNN VAVRECK [continued]: are lying to us or are outwardly trying to manipulate us.Advertising is a creative medium.It's a craft.And if it's done well, it's done in this way.But you might have a different opinion.And so I want you to think about whether thereis some purposeful manipulation going on here.

    • 21:44

      LYNN VAVRECK [continued]: What's special about advertising as a medium?Would it be as effective if you were onlyhearing it or only seeing it?Go try it out.Turn the sound off and watch.Or turn the sound up and close your eyes.Should candidates be allowed to air these adsduring political campaigns?Maybe you think that this is really disappointing newsand that we should ban advertising.

    • 22:06

      LYNN VAVRECK [continued]: That would take a lot of money out of the political process,because candidates spend most of their moneyon political advertising.If you're interested in these questionsand want to read more about the power of political advertising,I'm going to recommend for you two books.The first is the book by Kathleen Hall Jamieson, calledPackaging the Presidency.

    • 22:26

      LYNN VAVRECK [continued]: And in that book, she will go through campaign by campaignand talk about the campaign ads in the same waythat we've talked about them here.The second book is by Ted Brader,and it's called Campaigning for Hearts and Minds.That's a little bit more of an academic lookat how advertisements might play on fearor anxiety or other emotions in order to be effective.

The Power of Political Advertising

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Professor Lynn Vavreck discusses political advertising, particularly highlighting the way text, music, voiceovers, and images can work together to manipulate a viewer's perception. She dissects three presidential advertisements and equips students to be mindful consumers of advertising.

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The Power of Political Advertising

Professor Lynn Vavreck discusses political advertising, particularly highlighting the way text, music, voiceovers, and images can work together to manipulate a viewer's perception. She dissects three presidential advertisements and equips students to be mindful consumers of advertising.

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