The Perception of political advertising during an election campaign: A measure of Cognitive and Emotional Effects

political advertising

Naresh Arora of DesignBoxed Creatives shares his two cents on political advertising in the era of social media.

In the largest democracy in the world, which also happens to be the multi-cultural and multi-ethnic hub of diversity, political campaigning acquires complex and multi-layered dynamics. India is home to multiple types of religions, castes, creeds, and languages which add to the distinctive nature of the electoral behaviour. Elections are fought on basis which majorly resonates with fore mentioned aspects of socio-cultural segregation; hence political advertising becomes focused on producing the desired emotional and cognitive effect by enabling perceptions which are identifiable with the electorate.

Having acquired unprecedented significance in incumbent times, social media channels comply with both the emotional and the cognitive aspect of political advertising, both in terms of profundity as well as extensiveness.

The character of political advertising, as well as social media forums, have also advanced from mere information sharing avenues to much more detailed ways of ideological propagation. Political advertising promulgates both the comparative analysis of the political situation as well as the persuasion aspect of putting forth an ideology, both relying majorly on the idea of engagement with the electorate. Gone are the days when advertising used to be unidirectional in terms of effect, it is now foregrounded in the ambit of engagement driven analysis.

The electorate has to emotionally and cognitively connect with the ideology being promoted through political advertising, which results in voters being invested in the process.

Engagement, in other words, refers to the appropriation of the electorate.

Like other socio-cultural discourses, political advertising offers inclusion and subversion- inclusion in the form of aspirational representation of the populace and subversion in terms of giving a discourse which is comparative, but the common denominator in this scheme of advertising remains public engagement.

I recall an incident related to Uttar Pradesh Assembly Elections in 2017, where I interacted with a voter belonging to the ‘Yadav’ caste, who are traditionally associated with Samajwadi Party’s vote bank. This voter had surprisingly not voted for SP during the 2017 elections owing to being influenced by social media campaigns and political advertising, which changed his mindset and preference. On further inquiry, he divulged the nature of campaigns and advertisement to be of extreme characteristics, which otherwise have no place in conventional media outlets.

Such extremism is another characteristic of the newly acquired dimensions of political advertising on modern channels of information and ideology dissemination, which goes on to speak not just about aspects of political advertising, but also the variance and widening of the emotional and cognitive spectrum in terms of the effect.

Also Read: Facebook launches searchable archive of U.S. political ads

Like every marketing strategy rooted in commercialism, political advertising operates upon the ideals of selling and buying. Selling or promoting a political ideology targeted at the voters to earn a profit in terms of power is the basis of political advertising. Hence the formula associated with political advertising is to strike an emotional and cognitive chord with the intended target. As a comparison between emotional and cognitive measures in terms of application, more people fall for the emotional aspect of application than the cognitive aspect. The tendency of connection widely propagated through political advertising unabashedly prioritizes on the emotional quotient, which sustains the whole purpose of political advertisement and even advertising in general- to buy, invest and associate in terms of being guided by emotions rather cognitive abilities. To conclude, the world of political advertising is no different than commercial advertising, where ‘emotion’ is the king of selling and buying!

Political advertising on social media found its pinnacle during US President Donald Trump’s election campaign. The world, including Americans themselves, expressed disbelief on Trump’s win, slowly comprehending upon the game changer that political advertising on social media turned out to be. The rallying cry of ‘making America great again’ was advertised incessantly through advertisements on social media, tapping upon the sentiments of roots, nationhood, and belongingness. The emphasis on the ‘self’ versus the ‘other’ was brought to the forefront of political discourse portraying Trump to be the flag bearer of the crusade, which managed to strike a chord with the American electorate.

The above article is authored by Naresh Arora, a Digital Media expert and political campaigns strategist. 

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