Allan Gregg is confused:
If negative advertising is so effective, maybe the media and politicians should ask themselves why other big advertisers (who are far more experienced and savvy) do not employ these same tactics. Just like the electoral process, it is safe to assume that McDonald’s wants to take market share from Burger King. They also know that the quickest and most immediate way of doing this would be to launch an ad campaign that claimed their competitor’s product contained botulism. Burger King could neutralize McDonald’s advantage by countering that Big Macs are rife with e-coli. This attack and counterattack might “work” to the extent that it would affect market share but it is not employed by McDonald’s and Burger King because they know it will destroy the category and pretty soon no one would ever buy a hamburger again. In other words, they are smart enough to know that the business they are in is not just about taking market share from the other guy … it’s about making consumers believe in eating hamburgers.
So while focusing on your opponent’s weakness rather than your own virtues might lead to a short term electoral advantage, over time, it will create a cascade of political cynicism. If you say “politician A is a crook” often enough, it is only a matter of time before the public comes to believe that all politicians are crooks. That is what is happening now and these are the seeds that defenders of negative advertising are sewing.
But Allan “oh, by the way, it was me who pushed for the infamous let’s-make-fun-of-Jean-Chretien’s-palsy advertisements in the 1993 campaign which bombed horribly” Gregg is completely skipping past the point, which is that creating political cynicism is not a cost of negative advertising; it is a benefit, because reducing the amount of politically engaged citizens makes elections easier to predict and manipulate. McDonald’s doesn’t do vicious negative advertising because if they taint the process of eating a hamburger they lose money; the Tories do negative advertising because if they taint the electoral process they effectively save money, to say nothing of making it easier to gain or maintain power.
This is really staggeringly obvious.