Political Advertising Could Be Poisoning Your Brand

JWT Study Finds Ads That Run After Political Ads Drop in Effectiveness, Value

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A Hillary Clinton Campaign ad
A Hillary Clinton Campaign ad Credit: Hillary Clinton Campaign via Hillary Clinton via YouTube
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When a brand ad runs after a political ad -- even one with a positive message -- it's perceived as less effective and appealing, according to a study by J. Walter Thompson.

The online study, conducted in partnership with Forethought, looked at Survey Sampling International responses from 3,600 people ages 18 and older in September. Twelve recent spots from presidential candidates Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump were used in the research. Half of the ads were "positive," or did not denigrate either opponent, and the rest were "negative," or attack ads. The brand ad used in the study was a 30-second Extra gum spot called "The Story of Sarah and Juan."

One of the key findings from the survey was that political advertising, regardless of whether or not it is positive or negative, stimulates negative emotions from consumers. Participants who viewed the brand ad after a political ad perceived the brand spot as 32% less relevant, 29% less entertaining and 27% less appealing, the study shows.

"What's really interesting is that the negative response to the brand ad wasn't limited to the ad itself; there was a negative response to the brand overall," said Mark Truss, global director of brand intelligence at J. Walter Thompson.

Not only did Extra's brand reputation drop 34% by survey participants who saw the spot following a positive or negative political ad from either candidate, the brand's product value declined 32% and perceived product quality decreased 24%.

The research doesn't yet reveal the length of time that political advertising's negative "hangover effect" will last has on how people view subsequent ads, but Mr. Truss said it should get marketers thinking more about the context in which they place ads. "Context really matters and it's not all about size and classification of audiences, but the context in which one places their ads across digital, print and TV matters a great deal," he added.

Ken Roberts, CEO of Forethought, said "emotion is everywhere," so even though the study focused on political ads, the same negative emotion about brand advertising could be elicited by consumers after seeing upsetting news coverage.