The Stupidity of Political Ads

Full disclosure, I am a cable cutter. In an age where commercial-free streaming video is as close as the nearest remote, I simply don’t see the need to subject myself to the manipulative and often offensive “you deserve” narrative of the ever-increasing number of commercials. This is especially true during election season, when big-spending corporations are desperate to make you think anyone who would break up their stranglehold on our political system is inherently evil.

One example is the one above, a picture that has gone viral on social media and is often used to show former Vice President Joe Biden as some kind of child molester. “LOOK!” the memes scream. “BIDEN IS A PEDOPHILE!!!” What they don’t tell you, of course, is that the girl in the picture is Biden’s granddaughter. Welcome to election season and the never-ending effort to distract you from the reality of the hard issues facing our country.


I’ve spent a great deal of time studying and trying to understand why people believe things that are patently ridiculous. Why, for example, does a dog running through a field to catch a Frisbee entice you to ask your doctor about a drug that, according to the same commercial, may cause kidney failure, high blood pressure, colon cancer and brain failure? Seems to me that asking a medical professional to prescribe something like that is an indication that the brain has already failed.

We don’t just see this with dogs chasing toys on beautiful sunny afternoons. In fact, the single most widespread style of manipulative advertising is the testimonial. You know, some person dressed as a doctor, veterinarian, dentist, teacher, etc claims that the product they are advertising is absolutely the best product of its kind to ever be produced. I once asked the late Los Angeles Lakers star Kobe Bryant, for example, how much Sprite he typically consumed, given that he was their biggest spokesman at one point. He said he didn’t drink any, even in the commercial where it showed him drinking it – that was water. If you pay someone enough to say something, they will often say it, whether they believe what they’re saying or not.

The same is true of political ads. Candidate A says something horrible about Candidate B and people seem to just believe it’s true. Given that there is absolutely no requirement that the content of an advertisement be factual, why on Earth would I care what Candidate A says about Candidate B? I’m interested in hearing what Candidate A says about Candidate A only. Identify the issues you’re passionate about and what you plan to do about them. It’s then up to me to fact-check your statements and decide how I feel about Candidate A. Candidate B shouldn’t enter into the equation at all! Let Candidate B do the same, and I will repeat my side of the process to determine my feelings about Candidate B.

Again, I have studied extensively in the field of behavioral analysis and have read several shelves’ worth of books on the subject of belief. Many people are just wired to believe whatever they hear that aligns with their own biases. Equally, many people are wired to automatically reject anything that goes against their particular worldview, no matter how expert the person presenting that information might be. This is perfectly illustrated by the people who believe a failed reality TV host knows more about science than world-renowned doctors. Nonetheless, it still floors me that seeing someone with an agenda on TV telling you something can cause people to act in a particular way. People will drink high volumes of chemicals, tell their doctor what to prescribe and even choose elected leaders based on total bullshit.

We should demand better…or at least turn that crap off and refuse to be so blatantly manipulated.


2 thoughts on “The Stupidity of Political Ads”

    1. I’m SO tired of the largely manufactured political divide. Aside from the extremists on both sides, we all want the same things and we can come together to solve the big problems. Instead, we’re allowing the corporate media to widen the gulf between us. Thanks for your comment!


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