Wednesday, May 25, 2005

The Hidden Persuaders Behind Illinois Legislation

The SJ-R is raking in a lot of dough this week from organizations running full-page ads* in support of or opposition to pending legislation. Without stooping to any type of marketing research to test the ads’ effectiveness (I won’t be influenced by polls), here is my subjective opinion on which ads work and which don’t.

The Stealth Tax ad looks the DVD cover for an “X-Files”-inspired B movie. It’s dark and mysterious and it makes me fearful of what is lurking behind the legislation. At least that’s what it is supposed to do. I’m not sure what bill this ad is opposing because it doesn’t trust the daily reader to understand such complicated matters. You only need to know that, if left unchecked, gas pumps will cause young and old alike to flee in terror. Also businesses. The ad is paid for by a host of business associations. It wisely includes quotes from Democrat and Republican congressmen alike who want to slay this scourge with a bipartisan death ray. The ad also, wisely, includes a call to action. It asks us to save ourselves by calling our legislators and registering our fear with them. It’s all a bit over-the-top for my taste, but if they would have only said exactly what the bill is proposing I might have gone for this ad.

The Illinois Hospital Association sponsored an ad with a dramatic testimonial about a Naperville boy who suffered a severe head injury and whose life was hanging in the balance while his family waited for a local neurosurgeon to arrive at the hospital. Today there are fewer neurosurgeons in Naperville, presumably because high insurance premiums are running doctors out of Illinois. Now I’m all for a neurosurgeon in every pot. And let’s assume that I believe that capping non-economic damages would replenish the doctor trade in Illinois. Now what? Do I write a letter? Head to the polls? Take to the streets? Take up arms? It’s frustrating when an ad goes to all the trouble to tell a compelling story and possible influence the attitude of a good many people, and then fail to tell them how they can help fight for the cause. The ad does end by saying, “act now.” So I’m going to reflexively order a Ronco pocket fisherman. Hope it helps.

A rebuttal to the previous ad appears just two pages later. I’m curious if the Illinois Trial Lawyers Association was able to arrange this with the SJ-R, or if it is just a merry coincidence. The ad trots out a variation on a tired line from an overrated movie, “you want the truth, you can’t handle the truth.” But I suppose trial lawyers couldn’t legitimately say “you make me want to be a better man.” Anyway. They present an interesting argument, if it isn’t taken out of context, based on a response from the head of a pro-cap organization. He basically admits that caps won’t lower insurance rates. The accompanying graph showing rapidly rising premiums in relation to slower rising payouts is interesting, although visually unappealing, but it does raise questions. And similar to its counterpart ad, it never tells me what I’m suppose to do with my new-found contempt for those rich, conniving doctors. I already have a pocket fisherman now.

Overall, after a thorough review, these ads are pretty good at getting their message across. But I purposely read them with the intent of reviewing them. I like advertising. I’ve studied it. I’ve created it. But what about the average SJ-R reader, skimming the daily news? Did the message get through to them? Of that I’m not so sure.

*The SJ-R, obviously, doesn't post the ads online so I can't link to them. I would link to the sponsors' Web sites if they would throw some advertising money in my direction. I hold out little hope of that.

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