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Why Do Political Attack Ads Work?

People often complain that political attack ads are unfair and mean but the truth is... they work.

A Vote sign with an arrow pointing to where people should go vote

Photo: Ho John Less (flickr)

Even though political attack ads can be negative they do influence how people vote.

With the election just around the corner, you may have noticed an increase in political advertisements on television and, in particular, negative advertisements.

Some complain that these ads are unfair and mean but the truth is… they work. A Moment of Science investigates why this kind of advertising is so effective.

Political attack ads do a great job of telling stories. They are effective at communicating a message in an easy, natural flow. But, why do they have to be negative?

The answer? Great storytelling has conflict (lots of conflict in some cases). Conflict is key. Without conflict, there is no story.

Political Storytelling

In stories, the protagonist (a hero) has a conflict with the antagonist (an opponent).  Instead of focusing on fixing the economy or education structure, the ads focus on the hero defeating the evil and vile opponent. This resolution leads to a satisfying story ending.

True And False Claims

Advertisements must make sure that the negative claims and accusations are based on truth. The audience does not want to root for a lying hero. People want a hero to be proud of.

The tension and conflict keeps the viewer interested while rooting for the hero.

Read More:

  • Why Attack Ads and Disney Movies Are So Darned Effective (Ad Age)
Margaret Aprison

Margaret is a graduate of Indiana University with a degree in Telecommunications and a minor in Psychology. The daughter of two scientists, Margaret has been surrounded by the subject her entire life. She enjoys social media, writing, television, and, of course, science!

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