Making "Secret Money" Backfire
by Jason Williams, Sun Oct 10, 2010 at 04:39:59 PM EDT
Vega explains, viewers of political ads don't think of "true" or "false," but "plausible" or "implausible." And it's easy to infer implausibility if you can raise suspicion about the ad itself:
Viewers know that the ads are all one-sided propaganda for the candidates and not "facts," but they still allow themselves to be influenced by messages that seem sufficiently plausible or convincing.
One basic finding from social psychology, however, is that, if a viewers' conscious attention can be diverted from the content of an ad to suspicion about the motives of the communicator, the effectiveness of the ad actually does decline tremendously. In effect, if the viewers' skepticism is consciously activated, the usual "Well, who knows? I know it's just a commercial but what it says still might be true" reflex is inhibited. The viewer's attention becomes focused on the commercial itself rather than the message it delivers.
Since Democrats all over the country are now being swamped with a tidal wave of nasty attack ads funded with secret money, every attempt to make voters focus their attention on the secret money behind the ads - rather than on the words of the ad itself - can have a very significant effect. The way to most effectively execute this strategy is with messages that directly and dramatically challenge voters to actively and skeptically think about the commercials they see at the moment when they appear on the TV screen.
All done with one very simple response:
Honest TV ads at least let you know who paid for them. Ads that don't aren't honest. It really is that simple.
As a final month issue for the midterms, this could be easy pickin' for Democrats. Sure, Mrs./Mr. Swing Voter, that ad was glossy, had an intriguing message, and lots and lots of red, white, and blue, but no one will ever know who really paid to put it on your TV!
Enough to swing the pendulum in November? Probably not. But more important than that is the opportunity to create legitimate suspicion not only of the GOP message at large, but also the influence of Citizens United and the intentions of the US Chamber of Commerce, indefinitely.
That would be a big win.
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