Home > Uncategorized > Campaigning for Hearts & Minds: Emotion & Political Advertising (Reaction 2)

Campaigning for Hearts & Minds: Emotion & Political Advertising (Reaction 2)

Campaigning for the Hearts & Minds makes important contributions to understanding political advertising. Brader’s (2006) biggest contribution is his evidence that suggests emotion is important for political advertising. Although this may seem obvious, much of the scholarly research on political advertising lacked an investigation into emotion. This work does a fairly good job of justifying the idea that emotion matters to political advertising, and  it even attempts to reconstruct how we view emotion in political advertising.

Political advertising is a form of advertising and with all advertising it can be argued that it risks the comodification of its viewers and has other adverse reactions. Since political advertising plays a role in elections and the democratic process there has been controversy surrounding political advertising and its role in the process and its role within ethics. Some of the findings from Brader’s work shed some light on the role that political advertising plays in our civic attitudes and participation.

Brader conducts experiments and also content analysis in order to better understand emotions in political advertising. Some of his results are consistent with previous literature and popular opinion, while others provide some very interesting conclusions that may alter the world of political advertising, or at least future studies. Brader (2006) developed a typology that included seven emotions and his main focus is on: fear (anxiety/worry) and enthusiasm (hope/joy). Fear is typically associated with negative ads and enthusiasm is associated with positive ads.  This study found that both fear and enthusiasm within political advertisements have the potential to persuade viewers, and that these emotional cues are highly prevalent in political advertising. He also found that both types of ads generate intention to vote. In addition, Brader found that although many may argue that political ads are either rational or emotional, he found that these are not mutually exclusive, and that emotion and rationality are used quiet often together in attempts to create persuasive political advertisements.

Brader also challenges some of the conventional wisdom regarding political advertising. First, it has been shown that negative political advertising can demobilize voters. Although there may be some risk of citizens who are not very interested in politics becoming more uninterested with negative advertising, his results show that there are benefits to negative advertising. First, negative ads can lead to some interest in campaigns, they can generate intention to vote, and these ads are typically more focused on issues and facts than positive ads (p. 91, 182). Also, fear ads can “stimulate greater involvement in election” (p. 182) and “fear appeals tend to be more substantive” (p. 193). These results challenge previous held beliefs that negative ads are bad and suggest that negative advertising can actually play a constructive part in campaigns and political communication.

Next, Brader found that “ads appealing to enthusiasm tend to reinforce existing loyalties and further polarize” (p. 193).Also, these ads have the potential to elicit the emotion intended: enthusiasm. This enthusiasm results in the possibility of greater interest in campaigns, it also makes people more likely to volunteer in the election, and enthusiasm strengthens supporters. To summarize negative and positive advertising, Brader states that “in troubled times, minds are easily led; in good times, citizens are creatures of habit” (p. 196).

The study also found that “twice as many ads appeal to positive emotions as negative emotions” (p. 154). This is an interesting finding because I would argue that the media coverage of campaigns would lead viewers to believe that there were more negative ads in campaigns. This finding is also important when coupled with the experimental results. For example, since there are more positive ads it could be suggested that they may generate more enthusiasm about campaigns overall and that they help to reinforce patterned election behaviors, such as polarization. Next, since there are less negative ads campaigns may have less substantive debate on the issues. Finally, it is important to note that Braders results also found that there are more negative ads during general elections, and in target areas where there is more of the opposition. Thus, one could conclude that during the primary elections a main purpose is to rally the base and during the general election a main purpose is to lead the population in the direction needed for a vote.

Overall, the results from this study are important for everyone, not just political communication scholars or political scientists. These results range from understanding the importance of music and images in political advertising, to understanding the role of emotion in political ads and its role within the democratic process. I suggest that this is a must read for campaign junkies, a tutorial for the media, a pat on the back (for the most part) for campaign consultants who have had a lot of their experience and assumptions validated within this study, and it is an important contribution to scholars. We can now more confidently posit that emotion is important to political campaign advertising and it can also be argued that when emotion is a key feature to the study of political advertising.

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Categories: Uncategorized
  1. Brian Houston
    September 22, 2010 at 5:31 pm

    In class you’ll have to further explain what you mean by this:

    “Political advertising is a form of advertising and with all advertising it can be argued that it risks the comodification of its viewers and has other adverse reactions.”

    What are the implications or “effects” of viewers being comodified by political ads?

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