3rd of June 2024

By Professor Jenni Romaniuk Associate Director (International) Ehrenberg-Bass Institute
Published by MediaCat See original article

Can we please re-think political advertising?

‘Is it any wonder that people are turned off and disengaged with politics?’

I confess to being something of a politics nerd…

I follow politics like other people follow sports.  But I loathe the tone of most political advertising — it feels like a race to the bottom to paint the country and other politicians in as poor light as possible. Who wants to view that? I sense I am not alone as surveys in many democracies reveal a decline in public engagement with politics and the voting process.

Therefore, as we face elections in the UK and USA, and the advertising spend is ramping up — I wonder if it is useful to rethink our ideas of how political advertising could work, to improve the experience for all.

For this column I was inspired by a project started by Andrew Ehrenberg a few decades ago — which looked at the ‘Form Advertising Takes’ (and became affectionately known as the ‘FAT’1 project). The dominant mental model of how advertising works was that advertising is about persuading people to buy. Under this model, advertisements are a ‘salesperson’ for the brand, and so need to have a compelling reason to buy, such as a Unique Selling Proposition (USP), or some way of convincing the buyer that this brand was different or better than other options.

As usual, Andrew questioned the prevailing wisdom and put forward a competing theory, that arose from his decades of research into buyer behaviour and brand performance. His ‘advertising as creative publicity’ model (later published in the Journal of Advertising Research), claims the most common role of advertising is to keep useful brand memories fresh in the minds of category buyers.

Only occasionally, when there is genuine new news, does advertising need to create new memories, but even then, we need to remember that new news is only new once, and after that first exposure, advertising with that message serves to remind and keep that brand memory fresh.

As one way to test what advertising does (rather than what it was intended to do), he asked different groups of people to view advertising and assess if it had persuasive or publicity qualities.

The project team, which included my colleague Professor Rachel Kennedy, found that only one third of advertising says things I did not already know, while half of advertising was judged to only remind me of the brand. This got get me thinking — what form does political advertising take?

Read the full article on MediaCat Magazine.


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