Political advertising is one of the tools a politician uses to bring their message to the masses. The essential task of political advertising is to gain the confidence of the people for their acceptance of ideas and, in the case of political campaign advertising, to influence their vote. The ad can feature a political party, representative or candidate, political issues or issues of public interest, and government policies (whether published by the government or someone else). Advertising by government, political parties, lobby groups, and other interest groups may fall into this category.
Political advertising differs from commercial advertising in that the product is either a person or a philosophy rather than goods and services, and, in addition, the advertising objectives must be met within a specific time frame. Also, political advertising carries a moral implication, because the results have potentially far-reaching effects on the population at large and can raise many controversial issues. Today, political advertising is a multi-billion dollar industry.
Public Service Advertisements (PSAs) are primarily designed to inform and educate rather than sell a product or service. The goal of a PSA is not to make a big sale, but rather to change public opinion and raise awareness for a problem. However, sometimes money is solicited, although usually not for profit. A PSA is any advertisement promoting programs, activities, or services of federal, state, or local governments or of non-profit organizations.
PSAs came into being with the entry of the United States into World War II. Advertising agencies created a council that offered their skills and facilities to advance the war effort by designing ads to sell War Bonds. Today the Advertising Council aids in nationwide campaigns that have become a familiar part of daily life. The "Smokey the Bear - Only You Can Prevent Forest Fires" and the United Negro College Fund’s "A Mind Is a Terrible Thing to Waste" campaigns were invented by the Ad Council and raised millions.
Smokey the Bear image from 1960. (Photo: U.S. Forest Service)