Letter to the Editor: A Case against Fear and Attack Political Ads

It’s only September, and political ads have been running for months already. Agh! 

Out of curiosity, I did a little research on political ads and discovered that the first televised political ads were run by Dwight Eisenhower in 1952 and were created by Rosser Reeves, the same ad man who created the famous M&M slogan: “Melts in your mouth, not in your hand.” 

The strategy at that time focused on creating ads that highlighted the very best qualities of the product – or person, in the case of political ads. Obviously, we’ve moved from promotional ads to attack ads. 

As more and more money is poured into these ads, they are becoming slicker and slicker. They seem to be designed to trigger specific emotions, positive or negative. 

Prof. Ted Brader at the University of Michigan discovered through his research that feel-good ads mobilize people to be more interested in participating and in the election. Those ads are usually based on the candidate’s strengths on certain issues. He also discovered that people regarded fear ads as the worst kind of ad. 

Sadly, though, politicians have found fear ads to be useful in directing people’s attention to important issues. However, Brader found that if people don’t see the world in the way the fear ad proclaims, the ad doesn’t work to persuade in any way. He also found that most people don’t like personal attacks, but they are OK with policy disputes.

I realize political ads have a place in our democracy, and I support that right; however, I just wish we could go back to the type of ad that promotes a candidate’s positions and/or policies in a positive way. We are very capable of sorting out these positions and deciding for ourselves what we believe and what we want to vote for. I think it’s time to remove fear and attacks from this arena. 

Anyone care for some M&M’s? They “melt in your mouth, not in your hand!”

Laura Johnsrud

Sturgeon Bay, Wisconsin