The US midterms show that mixing politics and advertising makes a volatile concoction

Jon Sharpe
President Trump Hosts President Moon Of South Korea At The White House
The midterm elections will be a major milestone in Trump's presidency (Source: Getty)

The US midterm elections tomorrow are set to be a significant milestone. With record voter attendance expected and the structural balance of Congress at stake, these midterms will either reduce Donald Trump’s power, or give him a mandate to pursue his political goals.

It is of no surprise then, with so much on the line, that increasingly impactful and polarising political advertising is coming to the fore.

The New York Times leveraged footage of migrant children being separated from their parents at the US border in its ad campaign “The Truth Is Worth It”. The Democratic party has since hired the same ad agency – Droga5 – to promote party candidates ahead of the vote.

Trump responded with a divisive video ad, now pinned to the top of his Twitter feed, which blames the Democrats for “letting in” Luis Bracamontes – an undocumented immigrant from Mexico who killed two police officers in Sacramento in 2014. The Washington Post debunked the video, reporting that Bracamontes last entered America while George W Bush was president.

While this war of words will continue to heat up, for us across the pond it raises interesting questions around the controversial nature of modern political ads, which have played a pivotal role in determining the outcome of landmark votes.

The 2016 US Presidential Election and the EU Referendum showed just how influential social media platforms are as a political battleground. The opaque nature of social media proved ripe soil for misinformation to be sewed – the scale of which was only revealed with the Cambridge Analytica scandal.

Since 2016, what have we learned about political advertising? How do we solve the problems created by global media networks? Is it a case of more regulation for advertisers, or more education for audiences?

Recent scandals have shaken people’s faith in democratic systems, but they have equally stoked a rise in political engagement, which presents a real opportunity to educate voters.

It is easier, and ultimately more beneficial, to teach people about the nature of modern political advertising than it is to change the nature of the beast itself.

The advertising landscape brought us to this current climate – I believe advertising can get us out. As the world focuses on Washington, those in charge of protecting democracy should study the techniques being used, and ensure that these tactics do not catch us off-guard again.