Political Advertising: Policy Issue in Marketing

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Political Advertising Policy


Commercial advertising plays a crucial role in the current business environment. It is pervasive in various forms of media with the aim of influencing a targeted audience (Johnson-Cartee & Copeland, 2013). A vital characteristic of commercial advertising is that it is directed by rules and formal guidelines, which exist for conducting commercial advertising. As a result, they largely consider a form of legitimate and fair marketing. On the other hand, political advertising, which has become a crucial tool in political campaigns, is often considered more intrusive when compared to regular commercial advertising (Johnson-Cartee & Copeland, 2013). The domain of political advertising is not like the case of commercial advertising in the sense that it is not the rulebooks and official guiding principles with respect form and contain political ad. In fact, whereas the campaign finance has been subject to regulation, political advertising form and content is largely unregulated in the US. There is no established regulatory body in the US for political advertisers that can be used in ascertaining the accuracy of their claims. A key feature of political advertising is comparative advertising, which involves blatant criticism of competitors. Moreover, there are no established forums that can be used in reviewing claims made in political advertisements. The press often tries to perform infrequent checks on political advertisements through the ad-watch reports; however, these reports often result in public distrust (Hill, Capella, & Cho, 2015). Significant evidence shows that the negativity related to the modern-day political campaigns has resulted in the avoidance mentality, which in turn reduces the electorate as well as their participation in the election process. Given the unregulated nature of political advertising, there is a need to explore such issues in political advertising, as truth and offensiveness. To this end, the proposed research is a case study of political advertising in the 2012 US presidential election, with a special emphasis on notable issues, which characterized political advertisements in the run-up to the election. The choice of the 2012 US presidential campaign draws on the fact that it is the most expensive election so far in terms of the money spent (Hill, Capella, & Cho, 2015). The aim of this research paper is to conduct a comprehensive study and profile political advertisements in the US.

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Facts about the Campaign

To start with, there is a need to study all the facts that were involved in the campaign. This helps to have an accurate overview of the same. TV advertising was the major area on which the presidential candidates concentrated. As a matter of fact, more than 70% of all their advertising money was used on TV advertising. This may mean that TV adverts are very expensive. However, it brings another important factor to the light. These candidates believe in the efficiency of TV advertising (Biocca, 2013). It is one of the best ways to reach most of the people in the nation. This means that they directed most of their resources there for this sole reason. When it comes to efficiency, it is clear that Obama’s methods were better than those of Romney. This is because Obama spent about 400 million dollars while Romney spent almost 480 million dollars on advertising. Efficiency is a comparison of input and output. Obama’s method seems to have worked more.

The chart above shows the percentages of cash that was used to conduct negative advertising in the elections of 2012. During the advertising process, people normally notify the public of their products. This is mostly in commercial advertising. However, this is not the same case in political advertising. They try to sell their ideologies to the public. In the process, they gain the people’s trust and get the votes they need. There is another unhealthy form of advertising that is carried out by politicians. It is known as negative advertising. In this type of advertising, the candidates present negative facts about their opposition. This way, they are able to take some of their voters to their side (Biocca, 2013). In the 2012 campaign, it was noted that Romney’s advertising was more negative than that of Obama. This was expected. Although Obama was the incumbent and Romney the nominee, Obama had just served his first term (Biocca, 2013). He had been in office and was subject to any criticism that Romney would have thought about. However, Romney was not new to politics. The fact that his advertising was more negative does not mean that Obama was not involved in any negative advertising. During the era of George Bush, Romney was a high-ranking official. Facts about this era were used by Obama to explain to the people different negative aspects of Mitt Romney. Therefore, both their advertisings were negative (Johnson-Cartee & Copeland, 2013).

Between these two candidates, it was Obama who started advertising. For some time, he ran his advertisements in the nation, long before Romney had started. Therefore, it is correct to say that Obama had an added advantage over Romney. This is because at the time the media was not filled by opposing sides trying to carry out negative campaigns. Therefore, before they started throwing punches at each other, Obama had already established his ground and reminded the Americans of the things he had done for them during the previous term (Williams & Newman, 2014). When Romney came into the picture, it was as if he had come to counter the thoughts and facts of Barrack Obama. This made his campaign more negative, a fact that may not augur well with some voters. It can be said that there are other factors that led to the victory of Obama. However, this was a contributor to the same. Although it cannot be established to such scale (Johnson-Cartee & Copeland, 2013).




Party Republican Democratic
Electoral vote



Popular vote 60,933,500





Analyses of the Case Study

In commercial advertising, there are laws and regulations that restrict organizations from mentioning their competitors and causing negative publicity for their products. However, this is not applied in political advertising. It can be attributed to several factors. First, most of the periods of political advertising are transition periods for the whole nation. The change of power is a factor that causes many changes in a country. In most of the cases, the citizens normally yearn for new policies and significant changes in their lives. It means that forms of advertising are the least of their concerns. As a matter of fact, they appreciate negative advertising. This is because it brings out all the sides of the opposing side. However, there is a problem that comes with this. It is hard for them to establish, which of the two sides is truthful. Some of the facts in the government are complicated. Their implications cannot be understood by the normal citizen. Sometimes, it takes these politicians to explain most of these facts (Lees-Marshment & Wymer, 2013).

A perfect example of this was ObamaCare. This is where all the citizens were required to contribute some minimum amount. After this contribution, they would all receive medical care in case of any disease. This was discussed from two major perspectives. There are those who believed it to be an advantage for the middle class, as well as those below it. This would ensure that they are able to acquire medical care, especially in case of emergency (Lees-Marshment & Wymer, 2013). Therefore, the lack of funds would never be an excuse for the lack of medical attention for an individual. The other side believed this to be wrong. They spoke from a perspective of people above the middle class. These are people who can perfectly cater for all their medical expenses. Therefore, asking them to contribute money would mean that the government only intends to raise some money from the operation. This was the major issue in the presidential debate that took place before the elections (Lees-Marshment & Wymer, 2013). Romney largely criticized this issue. In the beginning, there may have been people who did not understand the dynamics of this operation. However, after these two sides had opposed each other, they were able to establish the differences that existed between the two opposing sides.

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Truthfulness is another issue that is to be discussed when it comes to political advertising. There are some instances, in which politicians feed false knowledge to the public. This is one of the major contributing factors for the debate to come up with regulations that can be used in the political advertising arena. For a long time, there have been people who suggest the institution of such regulations. However, the election time is so overwhelming for candidates, as well as the public. These causes there were of no concern for such issues. At the end of the day, they were allowed to carry on with their advertising as it has been planned. This is one of the most ironical discoveries. When it comes to commercial advertising, the institution of laws and regulations is masterminded by the government (Stromback & Kiousis, 2011). They are the same people that try their best to prevent false advertising. The irony lies in the fact that their power to do this is derived from means that were the exact contrary of what they are trying to do. Therefore, it becomes less of an example for people in the corporate world. Over the years, claims that political leaders are the ones who control the corporate world have been referred to as conspiracy theories (Stromback & Kiousis, 2011).

People believe that those people who climb up the corporate ladder are helped by their own efforts, as well as interactions with other people. However, this is not the case. The advertising by the US presidential candidates is guided by major investors in the stock market. As has been seen above, these are campaigns that require a lot of cash. Sometimes these presidential candidates cannot raise this cash. The fact that people like them does not mean that they are financially successful. It only means that they have the ability to sell their ideologies to the public. Therefore, they ask for help from the people that have money and at the end of elections, they owe these people favors. This means that the laws they institute may not be, solely, their doing. The application of these laws may not, also, be uninterrupted by these investors. Therefore, the corporate world is also affected by the political world, when it comes to advertising (Stromback & Kiousis, 2011).

In earlier elections, it has been seen that negative advertising always works for candidates. This is despite the lies that might be told against the opposing candidates. However, this was not seen in 2012. When Romney decided to run for the presidential seat, he started it in the right way. During the first presidential debate, he came forth and sold his policies to the people. He informed them about the ways, through which he could remedy most of their problems. One of the areas that were in crisis was the economy of the US. It had moved to a point where the people were starting to lose trust in the then government (Kubacki, 2014).

After this presidential debate, the polls immediately went the Romney’s way. He was able to gain the favor of most of the American voters. However, this did not augur well with Obama. As a result of this, he intensified his campaign and continued to inform people on some of the ways he would remedy the situation (Kubacki, 2014). His arguments seemed more realistic since he was the one who had been in power. Romney went into a panic and decided to counter the arguments by Obama. This was when he started demonizing Obama’s politics and operations that he had started. However, he could not have afforded the accuracy that comes with being in power. This is when he started losing votes. It is during this time that Obama started giving long term strategies to the public. For example, he informed the public of various ways, through which he could improve their economy. The use of alternative energy sources became a reality to Americans. Obama promised to engage in research to find alternative energy sources, such as coal, hydrogen, and nuclear energy. This, he said, was the major factor that could ensure the growth of the American economy (Lees-Marshment, Conley, & Cosgrove, 2014).

Images, such as the one shown above, could be deceiving to the American population. These are the images that may be used to formulate a notion in the minds of Americans. It makes them believe that everything that goes on in the presidential campaign is positive. On the image above, Obama and Romney are depicted as people who are just joined by a common goal to lead the American people (Lees-Marshment, Conley, & Cosgrove, 2014). However, this was not the actual case that was observed on the ground. However, an inner look at the image represents two sets of people who have different and competing ideologies. These are the democrats and the republicans. It is said that the US is the only country in the world that has a super stable political world. The occurrence of violence, as a result of elections, is most unlikely in this nation. However, this does not mean that opposing sides move along well. The democrats and the republicans have adversity that dates many years back. Apart from their interest in the wellbeing of Americans, there is a struggle for dominance between the two sides. Therefore, such an image can deceive the public and hinder the actual knowledge of forces that are competing in such an election (Lees-Marshment, Conley, & Cosgrove, 2014).

There are some aligned groups that were claimed to be in support of Mitt Romney. These are groups that have the interests of conserving some of the practices that the US government has had in the past. When Obama came into power, there were many things that have been altered, and this affected their business. According to claims, these may have been the major investors in the US (Baines, 2011). However, these are the claims that cannot be authenticated. In politics, real products are not sold. Instead, it is ideologies that are sold. Therefore, it is hard for anyone to know whether the information that is received in the political arena is accurate or not. At the end of the day, researchers and interested parties are left to speculate on the things that could have been conspiring between the politicians. Therefore, the institution of laws may help in the regulation of claims and activities in political advertising. Even if false advertising was fought, the definition of false in politics would be hard to establish (Baines, 2011).

The other fact that causes it to be difficult to institute these measures is that there is no particular body that has the power to institute measures for politicians. The best way through which this can be done is by the use of existing governments. They can come up with external independent bodies that may be used to regulate advertising through this period. A perfect example of this is the election commissions that have always overseen elections. Over time, elections have been faced with numerous challenges. However, the fact that these elections represent a transition period does not affect these commissions. They have always conducted their elections successfully. The US is one of the nations that can boast about its peaceful elections. It is also believed that they are conducted fairly. This is proof that there can be a group to control these politicians and ensure that they engage only in legal acts. Therefore, they can always be replaced by other people who would be willing to engage in the acts of this regulation. Similarly, there can be a commission that is chosen for the sole reason of regulating advertising during the campaign period. This is an agency that should comprise of people who are well experienced in the political arena. This way, they can identify false advertising when it occurs, and use regulations they have instituted to reduce and eliminate it (McAllister & West, 2013).

Number of Presidential Adverts in Three Selected Years

The graph above has been used to show the trend in the number of adverts that were used in presidential elections. From the graph, it is clear that the record had been held by the year 2008. However, this is not the case anymore. The reason for this is that 2012 beats them all. This was the year when most adverts were used. However, this can deceive someone into thinking that they had a wider coverage. This would be a misconception in itself because the ads were focused on fewer markets. In short, only a fewer number of citizens were able to access adverts. However, this seemed to be the tactic for both the candidates. The reason is as simple as the explanations that have been given before. The major aim of these two presidential candidates was to win. Both of them had identified the most vulnerable areas. They knew segments of people whose opinions can be swayed easily.

There were also regions that could be identified as some of the best when it comes to the voter turnout. For this reason, the aspirants saw that it fits to present their ads there for the citizens to see. All the same, the increase in the number of ads shows the continued trust that presidential aspirants have put on the power of ads. This is especially so when there is much competition between the presidential aspirants. When Romney decided to run for the presidential seat, it became a huge threat to Barrack Obama. This is because he is an individual who had considerable credentials. Therefore, he could not be ruled out as an unworthy opponent. In addition, the elections came at a time when the economy of the US was doing so poorly (McAllister & West, 2013). Therefore, Obama sensed the threat that he was in for a show. This made him tighten up his seat belt to compensate for the acceleration of his campaign.

On the other hand, Romney understood the advantage that lied on the side of Barrack Obama, in that he had won the hearts of Americans in the previous term. Therefore, he had had some time to show them what he could do. Therefore his arguments would be based on what he had already done, as opposed to what he can promise the people. This caused him to have fear, as well, since he discovered that he had a competitor who was more likely to win. He also accelerated his campaign accordingly. These two sides felt that they needed to increase the intensity of their strategies. As a result, they came up with the ways, through which they could market their policies (Ma, 2014).

From the data that have been collected, it is clear that advertising is the major area, in which they decided to put most of their resources. This is proof that political advertising is the order of the day in today’s political arena. For anyone to acquire the votes they need, they have to conduct a lot of advertisements, as it was seen in this election. With such a trend, it is easily noticeable that there are numerous malpractices that may result from this advertising (Ma, 2014). The fact that it has been observed to be continuous, consistent, and perpetual is enough to pressurize the government to formulate a body that can regulate political advertising. Otherwise, this is the field that may be filled with numerous cases of corruption and falsehood for a long time to come.

Money Spent Should Be Regulated

Marketing tactics that have been used in presidential campaigns have evolved over the years. Just like in commercial advertising, old means have been dropped and new ones adopted for the sake of changes in the lives of voters. For example, Clinton was the first presidential candidate whose team came up with a campaign website. At that time they discovered that most of the people had access to the internet. This means that they could capture this population by the development of a website, which they could use as a platform to reach their voters. Obama also came up with new ways of political advertising, where he used YouTube and emails. One of the most significant factors in modern advertising is the flexibility that is being achieved from time to time. This has increased agendas that have been in the minds of candidates. The reason is that they can change their minds overnight and express their thoughts. The truth of the fact is that politicians affect the ways that most people in the world think (Cwalina, Falkowski, & Newman, 2011). This is because they are viewed as leaders of the nation. Therefore, this is the flexibility that has caused more harm than good to American voters.

In the 2012 election, there were factors that could have changed in one night. Through the new means that had been introduced in advertising, it was easy for the candidates to come up with ways, through which they could instill these changes in the minds of Americans. For example, campaigns need budgets that can be used to regulate their money and decide on the ways, through which they could shift some of their funds from one area to another. In addition, the new ways of advertising could allow them to talk to people who were in certain geographical regions. For example, if they wanted to give information that was only relevant to New York, they had ways to ensure that they did not waste resources conveying the same message to other people in other regions of the country (Cwalina, Falkowski, & Newman, 2011). A perfect example was the energy policy by Barrack Obama. He had mentioned that extraction and use of coal was the major consideration for his government. Therefore, if any changes happened in this policy during the campaign period, Obama would create ads and ensure that they reach the appropriate citizens through their zip codes. In the same way, Romney also had access to this kind of technology. Any error from the side of Barack could be swiftly utilized by Romney. This explains the finding that more ads were presented by these two candidates, yet they covered fewer regions.

The other notable fact about these advertisements is their offensive nature. Unlike in commercial advertising, the political arena has a lot of freedom to itself. Most of these candidates have the freedom to make utterances that may please them at any time (Cwalina, Falkowski, & Newman, 2011). One of the ways, through which this offensiveness can be sorted out, is by the two of them pointing out the offensive nature of the other. However, this is not enough. This is because they are both expected to be of such behavior. At least, they require an external independent party to come in and regulate their use of language. This is why most of their negative advertising was almost entirely negative. At a point in the campaign, Obama had called Romney a ‘bullshitter’. This is an utterance, which could cause trouble for his campaign. There are people who believed that the office of president should be held by people with a higher degree of standards. Romney was also caught with the phrase ‘binders full of women’. Both of these are offensive kinds of utterance. They both could use them against each other and try to win votes. However, there is no specific regulation of advertisements that these two carry out in the country. When it comes to ethics, this should be the advertising that is given the most attention (Brenkert, 2008). The reason for this is that they deal with many citizens all across the US. Therefore, their utterances affect millions of people. They show the world the kind of leaders who intend to join the office. As a result of this, it should be bound by rules and regulations that suggest more care when formulating those ads. Although the leaders may not have meant any harm, there should be consequences for such utterances. This is the only way, through which the regulation can be achieved (Brenkert, 2008).

The lack of a body that regulates the conduction of campaigns leaves one alternative. The media is left to speculate on the possibilities that could be identified in the advertisements. When it comes to offensiveness or falsehood in advertising, the media may give unconfirmed reports, since they have no independent body, whose authentication has been confirmed. When they give such information to the public, they end up causing most of them to feel as though they are not part of the election process. When they learn on the practices of their leaders, they tend to refuse to vote (Kubacki, 2014). This can be detrimental to the US because democracy is something for which they have fought for a long time. Failure of some of the citizens to vote would amount to the lack of a democratically chosen leader. From the last election, it was clear that the gap between two presidential aspirants was not too large. Therefore, the lack of some citizens to vote could lead to a completely different result. The deduction from this is that the failure to take interest in the practices in advertisements does not mean that there is no one who is interested (Close, 2012). There will always be people who speculate. It is better if this was in the right hands, instead of whistleblowers who only scare voters away and provide no solutions.

The graph above is an analysis of the results of the elections. The reason as to why the election results have been considered is that they are the results of advertising. Therefore, they are most relevant to this discussion (Close, 2012). Particularly, there is a need to draw attention to other candidates, apart from Obama and Romney. In commercial advertising, there is an issue that is known as predatory advertising. This is where the companies that have huge resource reserves engage in activities that give no chance to smaller companies. The law intervenes to protect these smaller companies. For example, there are some companies that advertise their products at lower prices. These are the prices that can be way below the equilibrium prices in the market. This means that they make a little profit per item. However, their sales increase massively and they still get the reward for their tactic. The disadvantage of this move is that it has the ability to pluck out smaller companies from the market. Therefore, it becomes difficult for smaller companies to succeed.

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In this 2012 election, it has been mentioned that the most money in a single election was used (Steger, Kelly, & Wrighton, 2013). However, most of this money was Obama’s and Romney’s. Assuming that these candidates were the products being offered to the public, it is clear that there was no choice. One of the two of them had to win the elections. This is because they had access to more resources than others. However, it cannot be determined, which of them had the best policies. Possibly, there can be the institution of measures, just like in commercial advertising, to ensure that candidates compete on the same platforms (Steger, Kelly, & Wrighton, 2013). These regulations can mostly include the finances, to which they are exposed. This way, people would be given the chance to listen and learn ideologies of all the candidates. At the end of the day, not the most vocal or financially exposed candidate wins. Instead, they make a decision based on the principles and ideas presented by candidates (Kaynak & Kahle, 2013). However, people in the government still have political agendas. Therefore, they would not like to instill measures, to which they might be bound negatively. For this reason, the institution of these proposed measures would require the intervention of outside parties to make a suggestion and follow up until such measures are instilled (Close, 2012).


From the written above, it is clear that the thought that all areas of advertising have been covered is wrong. When it comes to political advertising, there are numerous uncovered factors. There is no complete manning and regulation of practices in which they get involved. This research paper is an eye-opener to that fact that political advertising creates a lot of space for candidates who would use any means to get to the top. In some cases, like in 2012, there was no extreme behavior. However, there are several instances, in which the public felt that the candidates had violated some of the rules, to which commercial advertisers are bound. Once again, they got away with it for the sole excuse and reason that it was political. As a result of this, there has been a continued public outcry to try and institute measures that can be used to regulate this advertising. Probably, this may take some time to happen, but it would be worth the wait.

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