Thursday, February 22, 2007

Why YouTube attack ads will not work

I noticed that this post on Lib Dem Voice was in the top five posts on LibDemBlogs. So I think a response is in order.

Essentially, Rob Fenwick's argument is that internet TV sites like 18 Doughty Street and the rather more famous YouTube allow people to circumvent the laws against political adverts on TV, opening the way to US-style attack ads and all the bad consequences they entail. I am not worried, because internet TV is fundamentally a poor medium for distributing political attack ads.

Political adverts (whether attack videos, FOCUS leaflets, or billboards) are designed for rapid, gut-level appeal to floating voters with an effective mental age of about 14. People who look for information about politics on the internet are typically educated people with strong political views. A politically aware person who sees the Livingstone ad Fenwick is complaining about will not be surprised by the contents - we all knew that Ken was into self-publicity, Commie-hugging and tax-raising when we elected him. The people who the ad might persuade are the people who voted for him because he was a loveable cheeky chappie who promised to sort the busses out.

The difference between a TV ad and a website is that the TV ad interrupts a TV programme and is seen by everyone watching the programme, whereas a website is only seen by people who positively seek it out. The people choosing to watch 18 Doughty Street are almost entirely either Tories looking to have their prejudices confirmed or Tory-haters working out whether to point and laugh or cry foul. Neither will have their political views changed by a 2-minute attack ad.

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