an assessment of political advertising on electorates in the 2015 presidental election
1.1 Background of the Study
Advertising practice has a long history. Frank (2000.p,31) traced this history to as long ago as the creation of man and the sojourn in the Biblical Garden of Eden. Eve was said to have successfully advertised the forbidden fruit to Adam. Modern advertising has however been traced to the activities of media brokers who acted as agents to advertisers in securing space in the media for the publication of their sales messages. Media brokers later took on the responsibility of developing the sales messages for their clients and designing them in the forms they will better attract and persuade consumers. The process of creating sales messages in a fresh and impactful manner such as could compel the attention and desired response from the consumers has remained the role and challenge of advertising practice over the years. The functions of advertising is usually broken into (i) creative and strategy development (ii) media planning, buying and monitoring (iii) media exposure and compliance and (iv) marketing and brand management.
Even today, producers and distributors depend on advertising to sell their products. Without advertisements, buyers would not know about the existence of products and services and continue to remember them. Consequently, the modern industrialized world may collapse (Jefkin, 2006). If factory output is to be maintained profitably, political messages understood and internalized and economic policies interpreted, advertising must continue to be used in the right proportion. Jefkin (2007.p,47) argues that “mass production requires mass consumption, which in turn requires advertising to the mass market through the mass media”. Apart from products, ideas and services also need to be advertised for acceptance. Such ideas could be economic or political. Hence, candidates for elections into different positions, at different levels in all countries of the world, spend a fortune to sell themselves to the electorate.
That the mass media pervades our daily lives, including through advertising, has been well established by various scholars and communication experts. In politics, campaigns have become an essential tool used by candidates contesting for various positions, to persuade people to vote for them. Advertising and public relations occupy the centre stage of promotion of political candidates and parties vying for different political positions during campaigns. In recent decades, political advertising has changed significantly. According to Iyenga (2000) political advertising is increasingly the main element in political campaigns, rendering party machines and grass-root organisations less important than they were in the past. Diamond and Bates (1992.p,51) similarly posited that unlike political campaigns in the past, advances in media technology have streamlined the process, giving candidates more options to reach larger groups of constituents with little effort. According to boundless.com (2015) the growth of political advertising – especially in the United States – can be attributed to cable television networks and the internet. The boundless.com website states that the growth of cable television networks heavily influenced political advertising in the 1992 election between incumbent President George H.W. Bush and Governor Bill Clinton, particularly in reaching new target demographics such as women and young voters.
The 2004 election saw yet another, and possibly the biggest, change yet in political advertising–the growth of the Internet. Web-based advertising was easily distributed by both incumbent President George W. Bush and Senator John Kerry’s campaigns, and both campaigns hired firms who specialized in the accumulation of personal data. This resulted in advertisements which were tailored to target specific audiences for the first time (a process known as narrowcasting). In Nigeria, political advertising has grown immensely in the past two decades. This is probably a result of the growing awareness by political parties and their candidates of the usefulness of advertising to educate the electorate about a candidate as a ‘better brand’, and to communicate their offerings in form of manifestos to the electorate. Olujide (2010) notes that advertising has become the most commonly used technique to create a favourable image for the candidate and a negative image for the opponent. Before now, political parties and candidates channeled most of their resources into political rallies, speeches and direct contact to gather the support of electorates, as noted by (Opeibi, 2004). Between the 2007, 2011 and most recently the 2015 elections in Nigeria, the use of political ad campaigns has expanded with regard to mode of delivery, type of language used, and forms of media used to communicate these messages. The 2007 presidential election saw the overflow of both traditional and new media with media campaigns of the two strongest contenders, who were Goodluck Ebele Jonathan of the People Democratic Party (PDP) and General Muhammadu Buhari of the All Progressive Congress (APC). Because of the popularity of these three candidates amongst the electorate, campaigns became highly competitive. Each candidate tried to outdo the other using political ad campaigns. They came up with various jingles, such as ‘everybody loves Jimi Agbaje’, and slogans such as ‘Ekoonibaje o’. According to Nworah (2011), the 2015 presidential election between former president Goodluck Ebele Jonathan of the PDP and General Muhammadu Buhari of the CPC had its peculiarities. Because Goodluck Jonathan had been elected president during his first term, he was saddled with the responsibility of convincing the electorate that he was a better choice than his strongest opponent. This he did by investing a lot of funds into media campaigns, which included traditional media and the new media.
Although some scholars agree that political advertising is important to every election campaign, certain political consultants remain divided on the extent to which political advertising influences voting behaviour. In the past, political campaign researchers such as Iyenga agreed that political media campaigns had a great effect on voting behaviour. However, recent studies have shown a better understanding of the effectiveness of political advertising communication in elections. Holbrook (1996) concluded that ‘variations in candidate support during the campaign season are largely attributable to the occurrence of campaign events.’ Iyenga stated that political advertising is persuasive rather than manipulative, and its messages inform voters about the candidates’ positions and allow voters to develop differentiated images of the candidates.
Interestingly, Nigerian voters are becoming ever more exposed to political advertising – a lot more than in the past, which in turn raises awareness about political decisions before they are taken. Voters are becoming more aware about political information, including information on candidates and their manifestos, party policies and election guidelines, through the continual use of political advertising in election campaigns in Nigeria.
1.2 Statement of the Problem
The case of the 2015 presidential election in Nigeria exemplifies a situation that different political parties in the race for political power made extensive use of advertising to sell their different political parties and candidates to the electorate. The implication of the above statement is that political parties may have had their chances enhanced through advertising messages persuading the electorate to vote for their parties or failed in realizing their goal because they ignored this or did not do it the right way. However, the process of this message delivery is a complex one.