Since the election season approaches and because some readers who live in battleground states will have to suffer through a morbid glut of TV ads about this or that candidate, I thought I'd share some wisdom gleaned from the The Worst-Case Scenario Almanac: Politics.
The whole book is an enjoyable read, but in Chapter 3, which is titled "The Media and the Message: Spin Cycle," there is a set of recommendations called "How to Simplify a Complicated Message." The principles seem like they've been sent from the grave of Lee Atwater.
So if you live in one of those poor states that is considered a "toss-up" or "in play" or if you're simply masochistic, viewing the ads through these recommendations might be valuable. I'm going to quote from book at length because the authors, David Borgenicht and Turk Regan are spot on with how many of these political ads work.
So here you go:
Principle 1: "Be Emotional." Simply put, "Effective and memorable political messages depend on inspiring emotional responses from voters that drive them to polls."
Principle 2: "Draw a picture." This is where the either-or fallacy is the Sophist's friend: "Reduce the issue or situation to a single image or pair of opposing images in which it is clear what is good and what is bad.... The direct connection between the images and the issue are less important than the positive or negative emotional reactions that they stir..."
Principle 3: "Use an Analogy." If visuals don't work, they recommend "describ[ing] the situation or issue in terms of a familiar, folksy saying in which it is obvious what is preferable, in a way that even the least sophisticated of voters can understand and appreciate" For example, some supported Bush over Kerry because "We don't want to change horses midstream [during a war]."
Principle 4: "Remove all doubt." In political ads, complexity is the enemy: "Remove all shading, nuance, or equivocation from your statements about the issue. State that any acknowledgment of complication surrounding the issue by your opponent is a sign of weakness and being 'soft' on the matter at hand."
Principle 5: "Compare and Contrast." See how this connects to Principle 2: "Paint the issue as a conflict in the broadest possible terms, between right and wrong, or good and evil."