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The intense final election campaign weeks are behind us. Now for another intense six-week campaign: by marketers and retailers for holiday sales.

We can be thankful the political consultants are off for some R&R. Just think if they turned to handling holiday campaigns.

Instead of joyful scenes of kids enjoying toys and games, we'd see one toy company accusing the other of selling toys that break, fail to perform or get stuck in tots' windpipes. Perfume ads that normally feature seductive women and smitten men would be replaced with all-type ads accusing competitors of selling cologne that chokes the environment, causes asthma and turns off hunks.

Yes, we can be thankful political advertising is a breed apart and not at all representative of advertising as practiced by traditional marketers. Political strategists are now firmly convinced more people vote against a candidate than for a candidate, so negative advertising has taken over the election process. Even though it feeds the growing cynicism of the public toward elected officials, it gets the job done for their candidate.

We echo the sentiments in a Ketchum Advertising newspaper ad that ran after the elections last week under the headline, "Don't call it advertising." Addressing the political consultants who fashion ads for candidates, Ketchum noted: "Advertising enhances a product. What you do tears it down."

Yet we can't endorse the agency's call for a bipartisan group to screen future political ads. John O'Toole tried that when he headed the American Association of Advertising Agencies, and the effort failed. The fast turnaround of ads in a political campaign precluded evaluation in many cases. And in some of the instances where the reviewers castigated an ad, the opponent used that fact in his own ads, sometimes distorting the objection.

We must depend on the electorate to punish those whose political ads are false or beyond the bounds of decency. And we must continue to remind the public that "real" advertising is a vital and useful part of our economic system.

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