How Encouraging Niceness Can Incentivize Nastiness: An Unintended Consequence of Advertising Reform
Posted: 11 Jun 2014 Last revised: 25 May 2016
Date Written: June 9, 2014
Enacted in an effort to discourage negative political advertising, American regulations mandate that candidates endorse their ads (“My name is _____, and I approve this message…”). Four studies suggest that mandatory endorsements ironically enhance the credibility of some ads these regulations were designed to discourage. We test when (i.e., for what types of ads) and why (by distinguishing seven accounts) mandatory endorsements have this effect. Mandatory endorsements boosted evaluations of policy-focused attack ads — those typically plagued by overcomeable skepticism — but had no consistent effect on positive or character-focused ads. We found that mandatory endorsements boost ad believability for two reasons: 1) the tagline offers a legitimizing association with regulation, and 2) the specific endorsement language (“I approve this message”) offers assurance of the ads’ truthfulness. We discuss how these findings bring order to and go beyond seemingly discrepant findings on the influence of mandatory endorsements, compare and contrast these findings to previously-documented unintended effects of communications requirements, and discuss new ideas for how to best promote the greater good by informing (without misleading) the electorate.
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