Political Marketing – The Ethical Concern

If you are as normal as I am, you would hate the current practice of political campaign. But do we hate it for the same right reasons?

Aversion toward political campaign have variously centered on aesthetic, economic and more seriously, ethical issue. In terms of aesthetic, it is not difficult to imagine that people do not want to see the face of Nudirman, Ramadhan Pohan or Ruhut Sitompul. Life is hard enough without have to see their ugly faces. Yet, we have to endure the nausea.

Furthermore, the image politics is bad economy. One could argue that it is good business for those who work in media advertising or political research as well as event organizers. However, at this moment, we suspect the funding of those campaigns comes from very dirty money. One could expect they will, in return, waste our tax money when they are in power. So, it is bad economy indeed.

The one that actually I want to discuss further is the ethical issues. The central questions regarding the issues are (a) whether they make false or misleading promises; (b) whether they promote false values; (c) whether they cause harm. These questions were asked by Bishop (2000) in his analysis on ethical stance of image advertising. He did ask the fourth questions (d) whether they threaten the autonomy of the individual. However, I understand that he comes from liberal culture where individualism is a big deal. Should I ask the similar question it would be (d) whether they threaten social harmony.

In order to properly analyze these political campaigns, let me make a general comparison to product advertising. In terms of objectives those two are similar in nature. Both are intended to raise awareness, modify or reinforce behavior and prompt direct action. However, in their persuasion approach several lines can be found to differentiate these two. These lines will illuminate our questions on the ethical issues.

First, product advertising direct the attention to the consumer need and argue how their product can fill the specific need gap. In doing so, they promote specific features with specific superior attributes. I emphasize the word specific in this case. In contrast, political campaigns deal with general and normative promises such as prosperity, justice, progress and so on.

I argue this general promise made by political campaign is in violation of ethics in regards to the first question. General promises are false promises and should not be used. For example, shampoo products do not promise you to be pretty. Sure, they put a beautiful talent in their ad but the promise is specific benefit such as reduce the dandruff. The promises have to be something that the product can deliver.

Politician in another hand cannot deliver prosperity. It is simply beyond their power. What they can promise actually is policy or action. For example, when in power, they will pass certain legislation. Or if they are elected they will raise budget for infrastructure. This kind of promise helps the voters to decide whether the promise can fill their need gaps. How often we see this kind of promise?

My central point is whenever politicians make a promise that they know they cannot deliver, it is subject to ethical violation. Those who promise to lower education cost or raise subsidy for poor people without giving specific method are doing the same unethical behavior. Current political campaign is full with those.

Second, product advertising/ campaign is required to promote “correct” values. Sure, in their events they might provide the participant with goody bag or product sample. They also provide entertainment to attract people. But do they bribe people to come to the event or buy the product?

The worst that current political campaign brings to the table is the perception that money can solve everything. Given enough money, you can put a corrupt person in a public office. Therefore, I loathe those media/ advertising professionals who do that because they get paid well. Where is the conscience?

I guess the answer for third question is loud and clear. Yes, current political campaign harms the society. Since it is designed solely to help their candidates win public offices, there are so many corner-cutting which harmful to the future of Indonesia. To list a few; tampering with polling result, black campaign and money politics. The list goes on, but the fact remain the same: we are screwed.

However, the more worrisome practice is the tendency to employ the primordial ties to the campaign. Since majority of these politicians are clueless and have no idea about what they will do in the office, they simply attract their voters based on religion, tribe or race. This is very dangerous and it can lead to the fourth question about threaten social harmony.

I don’t argue that political campaign is unethical. I argue that current political campaign is morally wrong. And I guess I have proved my points. What to do next?

Appealing to the politician to change their behavior is useless. Anyway, they are not the one with the expertise.

However, professionals in media or advertising have their code of ethics. Somehow, they just forget they need to implement those ethics for political campaign. Maybe with certain pressure they will listen. At the end of the day, I know there are many good people in that industry who will set the practice right.

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