Tired of political advertisements yet? I bet you are. Think it will end with the election this week? It won’t. We’re gearing up for a Presidential election year, so things are just getting started. Given that we can’t avoid the noise, what can we learn about this type of communication?
Politics describes all activities related to the government of a country and the official activities of elected individuals. Political communication refers to the messaging surrounding politics whether directed inward or outward. For example, citizens may direct political messaging toward their elected officials to influence their governance. Conversely, elected officials can direct political communication toward their constituents. Campaign committees attempt to influence both elected officials and the general public.
At its core is persuasion. Persuading others is the name of the game in politics. Politicians and activists are only successful if they can convince you that they have the best ideas and/or experience. This may involve trying to make you think your currently held opinions are wrong. It may involve negative messaging, particularly about other candidates for office, supporters of those candidates or their concerns. Political advertising, in fact, may be the most focused type of marketing. It is arguably the most divisive.
Persuading others isn’t possible, however, if you don’t know what works and why it works. Messaging is always the center of any communication effort. Expressing political ideas often includes cliches and euphemisms. Lack of specificity is common. Rather than describing a product with facts and figures, political advertising tends to fall into the emotional gray areas of our lives.
The defining characteristic of political communication is the creation of meaningful narratives in society that work to inform, persuade and call citizens to action. This is most commonly viewed through the lens of the most common modes of persuasion, Pathos, Ethos and Logos.
The terms ethos, pathos, and logos and the theory of their use can be traced back to ancient Greece to the philosophy of Aristotle. He used these three concepts in his explanations of rhetoric, or the art of influencing the thought and conduct of an audience. For Aristotle, the three modes of persuasion specifically referred to the three major parts of an argument: the speaker (ethos), the argument itself (logos), and the audience (pathos). In particular, Aristotle focused on the speaker’s character, the logic and reason presented by an argument, and the emotional impact the argument had on an audience.
While they have ancient roots, these modes of persuasion are alive and well today. Put simply, ethos refers to persuasion based on the credibility or authority of the speaker, pathos refers to persuasion based on emotion, and logos refers to persuasion based on logic or reason.
Endorsements tie into ethos. Establishing credibility and/or authority for a candidate or a policy is a must. Using logic to make a case is also important. Logos is at play when we work to reach someone through reason. The most frequent tool used is pathos, or emotion-based communication.
Some digital platforms are beginning to close the door to political ads. You can’t run them on TikTok. You can’t run them on Twitter. You can’t run them on other platforms. Obviously, streaming is exploding as a category for political ads. But there, too, you see some doors being closed.
The reasons vary, but a common thread is division. In general, people are weary of the constant attacks and assaults. It’s not exactly like watching ads for the Super Bowl, which are fun. We’re likely to keep looking though. It’s too hard to turn completely away.
Stacy Cornay is the owner of Communication Concepts Public Relations & Advertising.
She may be reached at 303-638-7127; firstname.lastname@example.org; www.comm-concepts.com; Facebook.com/Communication Concepts; X @CommConceptsPR; or Linked In.