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Specific features of political advertising

Political advertising is multifaceted and important issue in socio-political life, which is not enough researched in the field of political science.

Political advertising plays especially important role in the social life and political marketing. Its purpose is to make the public aware of the political programs, platforms of the parties, electoral blocks, individual nominees, and so on. Moreover, it is intended not only to inform the potential electorate about the contents thereof, but to demonstrate that, in comparison to any other programs, exactly this advertised one offers incontestable advantages. The political advertising is oriented to convince the voters that implementation of the program offered by the advertised political party or the individual figure will benefit them the most. Hence, they should give their votes for those, who offer the given program.

It should be stated that, firstly, the political advertising is conditioned by massovization of politics, i.e. inclusion of people at large; secondly, it is conditioned by the necessity to create and spread, with the help of mass media, the values, standards and rules, which would enable to manage the consciousness and behavior of the electorate along with building up the persistent systems of influence, new social relations; and, in the third place, it is conditioned by the use of the dominating communications capability to set the types of the social structures.

Therefore it should be marked out, that making positive image for the political figures is the most important objective of the political advertising.

Such political figures may include both: individuals and corporate structures (parties, groups), and even the nations in general or interstate organizations.

Image-making is the conscious construction of any characteristics or qualities of an individual, which make this individual socially attractive as well as enable to solve the specific political task with the individual’s involvement (i.e. to win elections, to advance government legitimacy and so on). In this respect, the image represents primary structural component of the political sphere, which allows the governing subjects to maintain relations with the public; to ensure feedback communication with the public; to try to drive the public opinion in a certain pace. For political figures image is the most important form of their political capital, which, at the same time, serves as an instrument for accrual of this capital. It is also the instrument for entering into the dialogue with the public, as well as the tool to manage the public’s sentiments and to project social problems over the politics.  The image is made at certain period of time and for the purpose of solving specific matters, such as: for the recipient to win elections, promotion of the politician’s popularity rating in case of legitimacy crisis and so forth.

Some affectation, persuasive energy, persistence (rigidity), as well as vividness, reality, simplicity and even certain flexibility of the build-up characteristics are always pertaining to the image. However the features and characteristics of the image, which have been duplicated by mass media and turned to be the common reference point for the public opinion, set quite severe restrictions for the political figure’s behavior and activity. Later this fixed image, in general, may only be corrected, but very difficult to change.

Having in mind such significant after-effects of the image, the political figures usually address image-making to the professional psychologists, social researchers, consultants and professional analytics. These specialists cannot dramatically alter some characteristics that have been pertaining to the person originally, but nonetheless they are exactly the ones, who can make the image of that person by striking into the specific characteristics, which are accepted and appreciated by the public. Whereas the spontaneous image-making is a serious risk, since the television and the printed press, which are usually used by the political leaders for the communication with the public, can stress out that specific characteristics of these leaders, which may considerably downgrade their popularity and prestige. It is notable that Niccolò Machiavelli already has stated it is highly important, that to the public’s eye, a prince should appear compassionate, faithful to his word, merciful, frank and devout. That is to say he should appear to be exactly the one, as the people would like him to percept. In these terms the main criterion of the successful image is the conformity of the features and characteristics to the needs and values of the mass (group) perception. In this case the image can be interpreted as a peculiar simplification of the mass preferences, individual form of their political existence. Some political figures, as for instance George Washington, in virtue of the well-formed image can turn to be the symbol of the nation already in their life time.

The basics of the image-making technologies are formed of one or another political activity or event in the life of a political figure, such as: leader’s noble actions, positive biographic details, public statements, which have had positive public feedback, and so on.

In general the image making is based on the selected type of a political figure: “Corruption-fighter”, “Truth Advocate”, “Victim of Political Intrigues and Oppression”, “Motherland Savior”, “Intellectual” and etc. At that, the given type should correspond to the psychological type of the leader himself, his professional qualities, the features that he’s already demonstrated in the political arena, and, surely, it should correspond to the type of the target group, which support is sought by the leader. Often the comprehensive appearance standards associated with the selected type are used for the purpose of making a certain image, i.e.: characterful face for a “Motherland Savior”, eye-glasses for an “Intellectual”, and so forth.

Taking into account that the image of a certain political figure is many-sided, applied image-making technologies are based on key features of the person, in particular: manner of communication (formal, friendly, informal); way of behavior under irregular circumstances; response to crises; appearance (wardrobe, hair style); gesticulations, articulation, facial expressions. Therefore the certain image- making trends and techniques have been fixed there, including: body-building (techniques for gesticulations, muscular response forming up), face-building (techniques for correction of articulation, mimics, appearance) and other.

The image-making process assumes the application of various information technologies that are focused on: the investigation of the political (voting) market and its segmentation (selection and description of the specifics of the demands, values and other features of target groups of voters); generation of required image parameters; correction and promotion of the image; presentation and marketing of the image (by its advertising); tuning out the competitors (by tracking the competitors activities and working out proper actions); adverse publicity and counter advertising activities (towards the competitors). The process of making and maintaining the image is a continuous process and it lasts as long as the political figure is active in the political arena. In these terms the only variable there is the tactical options, which depend on the progression of the situation (in case of transition of the political figure from the election stage to the stage of his work in the  elected  body).  Frequent  demonstration  or  repetition  of  some  or  other maneuvers popularizing the various aspects of the image, leads to memorability of the political figure’s image. The image becomes sort of condensed and settles  down in the public opinion, thereby orienting the public to certain demonstration of support and solidarity with respect to the given political figure.

Therefore, in my view, it is necessary to define the range of the most important aspects of the political advertising process:

  • what is the message to be communicated and clearly memorized;
  • what should be the way of the message communication to voters (in terms of manner, intonation, media – audio, video);
  • where to place the advertising message so it would reach the majority of voters at minimum

The political advertising is the kind of the impersonal message oriented to an individual, which is, in the age of free and competitive selection of information, aimed at building the positive image for a political product (a nominee, institution, symbol), predisposing and mobilizing that individual to render appropriate support. In one word, the final objective of the political advertising is to communicate to individuals the essence of the party’s political platform, the image of a nominee or another political figure in the emotional and laconic manner, so having formed the positive attitude towards the object of the political advertising  amidst  the maximum possible number of citizens and impelling them to act specifically in support of the advertised object.

To achieve its objective the advertising of a political resource or a nominee should meet a number of the requirements. In particular, the quality of the advertising is determined by how far convincingly the political programs and other advertised materials are represented. The advertised materials should be  represented in comprehensible, vivid, emotional, concise and original manner. It is very important for the advertising to be remarkable and tuning the voters up to support the advertised party or nominee.

Yet, no matter how perfect the political advertising is by itself, it will not  achieve its objective if there is no adequate psychological climate in the country. Concerning the political resources that go after re-election or extension of their time in power, the psychological climate for such resources would be negative if the situation in the country is unfavorable for instance due to war, where the country’s citizens are killed, or due to the low standards of living, evidences of corruption in the top echelons of power and etc. This kind of a psychological climate can be quite effectively used for the political advertising campaign by the oppositional political parties or nominees [2].

By making the positive images of some or other institutions, leaders or doctrines the advertising consequently promotes certain political objectives and values at the informational market. In these terms the extent of such political products distribution, their recognizability and popularity, as well as the extent of their approval by the public are the main indicators of the advertising efficiency.

The contents and forms of the advertising technologies are  extremely diversified. They depend on the audience, time of advertising messages distribution, nature of the advertising campaign, location and other geographical conditions, and on a number of other factors, as well. Most generally the advertising technologies can be classified as follows:

  • audio – (running commentaries, advertising messages, discussions) and video (video commercials, caption cards, televised debates and etc.) advertising techniques;
  • printed press advertising (publication of articles, writing reviews, interviews and etc.)
  • out-door advertising (billboards, posters, banners, flyers, graffiti, i.e. “political graffiti”);
  • printed advertising (placards, post-cards, letters, messages, booklets, calendars, business cards and );
  • direct mail advertising (messages mailing to particular voters);
  • distribution of promotional giveaways (badges, t-shorts, baseball caps, business gifts);
  • computerized advertising (internet, special informational software);
  • PR events (personal meetings of a nominee with the public, presentations, speeches at political meetings, conferences and ).

The balance of the above-listed instruments and techniques, first of all, depends on the part of the population in the focus of the advertising campaign. In particular, the televised debates can be intended for all voters, though certain press publications can be only for a part of the voters. In case of the differentiated advertising some technologies can be applied in reliance to the voters with the defined position, and other ones – in relation to the floating voters. Respectively, the style of the advertising campaign can be either supporting or capturing.

The basic formats of political advertising can be qualified as follows.

  1. Primarily, it is a tag line (motto) of one or another political resource attempting to enter into the government agencies. The tag line becomes the core of the political advertising. From way back the election campaigns of the nominees for the chief magistracy in the USA have been run under the certain tag line, which had been intended to woo the voters and to build the emotional contact with them. Here are the examples of the tag lines. For the election campaign of F.D. Roosevelt it was “New Deal”, for H.S. Truman – “Fair Deal”, for John F. Kennedy – “New Frontier”, for Lyndon B. Johnson – “Great Society”, Richard M. Nixon - “Forward Together!”, for Jimmy Carter – “New Spirit”, for Ronald Reagan – “An Era of National Renewal”, and for Bill Clinton it was – “Time for Change”.
  2. The symbols make the important part of the political advertising. Well-known symbols of the US Republican Party is the elephant, and for the US Democratic Party it is the donkey. The images of these symbols in the placards, badges, slogans tell which political party is advertised. The parades arranged by the Republican Party during the election campaigns rarely go without an real
  3. Also the flyers, being a form of the advertising, play a big part in the political advertising. A plenty of flyers can be found by the voters in their mail boxes. Every detail in the flyer, from its contents to the quality of paper it is printed on, is important. For example in the USA the ones, who are responsible for the political advertising   campaign,   realize   that   the   high-quality   design   of   the   flyer is instinctively projected by the voters over the advertised object. The forms of the political advertising also include giveaways and print media materials, outdoor advertising, direct mail and so on.

The major part in political advertising implementation and achievement of the advertising purpose is played by media used for the political advertising.  The first one of them is television. It is the core of the political advertising. The particular qualities of this kind of mass media make it possible to personify the politics, to strengthen that abilities, characteristics and even facial features of a nominee, which generate in the potential voters the sympathies towards that nominee. The potential  of the television for building up the image of a nominee are more or less unlimited.

The second important media of the political advertising is the application of the computer technologies. Collection of information, its processing with computers allow for “correction” of the nominee’s image in accordance with the revealed attitude and judgments of both: individual groups of voters and the electorate in whole. Thereby, it becomes possible to quite promptly change the contents of the political advertising.

The third media of the political advertising is inclusion of show-business elements, namely: various mass-entertaining actions, parades, concerts and etc. This technique of the political advertising is quite commonly practiced in the USA and other countries. The show-business elements also became the part of election campaigns carried in Kazakhstan. For instance, mass meetings, gatherings and folk festivals for the political advertising purposes have taken place during elections of the President in Kazakhstan.

The contents and the nature of the advertising technologies can  vary substantially and depend on the situation and stages of the political process. For example, at the “nominee promotion” stage of election campaigns the competitive and even aggressive techniques, being aimed at rather quick and extensive acquaintance of the public with the political figure personality, are widely practiced, which presumes multiple returns to the certain biographical details; creation of a “myth” or a “legend” about the nominee; circulation of “assaulting” materials that describe the negative characteristics of the competitors position; topical materials purposed to convince the voters and etc. In the meantime, at the post-election stage the political advertising of the elected nominee turns its focus on highlighting his business qualities, complimentary summation, an estimative analysis of the completed campaign in order to retain the positive image of the elected political figure.

Therefore, it should be stressed out, that the attributes (qualities) of the political advertising are very important in the social life and political marketing. At that, the required attributes of the political advertising are as follows:

  • dynamic style, which includes criticism of the acting party delegate, ability to constantly toss a challenge to the opponents, discuss the topics, which cannot be solved by the ruling elite;
  • address to the voters’ sentiments (concerns, fear, feeling that everything done before was not correct), overcoming of their frustration by indicating that all the problems will be solved if the certain nominees is elected;
  • transparency, persuasiveness, memorability, which contribute to creation of the psychological pattern in the public mind, which is desirable for the nominee (representing either positive or negative attitude towards the specific objects, ideas, reality situations);
  • consideration of distinctions between information and persuasion. Creation of the required psychological pattern is based on the priority of the nominee’s functional advantages over his In order to make the voters aware of these advantages it is necessary to keep in mind that the line from knowledge to beliefs, values goes through perception, comprehension and retention; the main idea should conform to the vital expectations of the voters and to the beliefs of the nominee himself. For better retention of the main idea it is best of all to express it  in the form of slogan. Thus the nominee awareness effect is achieved.
  • consideration of the time and place of influence on the voters. None of the external events should distract the voters (it is unreasonable to make a television appearance, if there is a football match with national team is broadcasted on the other channel);
  • to influence on the voters, while addressing to the rational sphere of consciousness, the persuasion technique should be used as well as the infusion technique, which makes use of the people’s capability to acquire information without credible evidences being presented. This technique addresses to the sentiments, habits, stereotypes, traditions,

Along with the advertising techniques that are publicly accepted and ethically- balanced, the set of techniques for the political advertising contains so-called “black” or “dirty” techniques, which break the common morals, rules of fair game and can quite often presume violation of laws [3]. For example, in addition to the bare-faced lie and disinformation, the individual political resources circulate the materials undermining the traditions and dominating values of the public; publish on behalf of the competitor materials, which compromise him in the public’s eye; enroll “clones” of the competitors for election to misinform the voters and to steal the actual votes during elections; while attempting to compromise the competitors they switch from giving the political appraisal to offending the personal qualities, family relations of the competitor; practice provocation acts, voters bribery, threats towards other nominees, improper ballot procedures; manipulation of voters’ consciousness and so forth.

It is typical, that some governmental authorities also tend to use this kind of technologies, thus in many cases violating the election laws for the sake of political viability and striking into the election campaigns in favor of one or another political resource resorting to their status in order to create some advantages for the supported political resource. In such situations the “dirty” advertising  technologies  conflict with the law and precondition the destruction of the democratic system foundations.

As a matter of principle, the government is destined to guard the informational market and circulation of the political advertising. Generally, the informational relations are regulated by law. However the complexity and ambiguousness of the informational-advertising relations complicate this process. Of all the countries in the world only Burkina Faso has a special law on political advertising.

There is also a number of the legislative provisions regulating the circulation of advertising information in political sphere. Thus, the list of the political advertising subjects excludes the organizations, which intentions or actions are aimed at the forced modification of the constitutional system foundations and disintegration of the Republic of Kazakhstan, undermining of the national security, organization of the armed groups, fomentation of social, racial, ethnic or religious discord. Circulation of the materials related to the state secrets, defamation, obscenities is also banned, as well as use of the concealed spots, which affect people’s consciousness and mentality, in the advertising messages and etc.

At the same time, the political relations practice revealed that the legislative dispositions alone cannot reliably regulate political advertising and, in particular, the expansion of the “dirty” technologies. Therefore the governmental and corporate structures acting in the informational market should be guided by certain ethic standards and codes of professional morals in their advertising activities, as it has been already practiced in the world. For example, there is the American Association of Advertising Agencies acting in the USA, which has brought together up to 80% of all political advertising agencies in the country. This Association extends and popularizes the common standards of professionalism and competence in the advertising industry. It also works closely with the  governmental bodies, puts up money for the advertising education programs, publishes annually “Guidelines for Election Campaign Advertising Ethics”. The Association has developed the Code of Ethics, Standard of Services, which  regulate the cooperation of the agencies with advertisers, mass media and other parts involved in the advertising process. Also, there are the international associations of this kind, for instance, the European Association of Advertising Agencies, International Advertising Association and other.

The public opinion plays a big part in regulation of political advertising techniques, especially in the process of exclusion of the “dirty” advertising techniques. The principles and standards of the civil communities in the  democratic countries make it substantially difficult to use political technologies, which are unacceptable for the public morality, in the informational market.

To summarize this review of political advertising specifics it is possible to make the following conclusions:

  1. By simplifying the contents of the political programs offered by the parties or individual nominees political advertising makes them more unsophisticated and comprehensible for the potential voters. By its essence political advertising brings the contents of those programs to the matter of simple choices. In virtue of its availability the advertising turns to be a power tool for the political
  2. The political advertising moulds the political priorities in circumstances, where the voters should make their choice (choose one option out of several possible ones). So, it is evident that in the political market advertising is the instrument and the means to win the voters in the competitive 

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