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Commentary: Line between politics, advertising already too blurry

Hope and change. If anybody from our generation can recall, those were the major keywords in Bill Clinton’s presidential campaign in 1992. And though his message was about change, things seem more and more the same as presidential hopefuls promise what the incumbent somehow failed to deliver.

But now that President Barack Obama has taken office, the vigor of this message has turned into a commercial cash crop. His image has been glorified to surreal levels.

The same keywords from his campaign and administration are finding their ways into retail commercials, car dealership offers and, of all places, contraceptives.

Car dealerships are now advertising what used to be rebates, cash back and no-money-down offers simply as stimulus checks. Buy a car and you get a stimulus check. Bring in your tax return papers and get a vehicle credit. But that’s hardly stimulating.

Practice Safe Policy, a bipartisan company that sells generic condoms wrapped in political packaging as election memorabilia, is one company making a profit by melding two unrelated sectors and marketing to voters.

In a press release, Vice President of Marketing Benjamin Sherman said this “most stimulating” election was the opportune moment to release the condoms.

The Obama condoms are labeled with Obama’s face and say “use with good judgment.” John McCain’s are emblazoned with “old but not expired.”

Ty Inc., the company that brought us Beanie Babies, released its Marvelous Malia and Sweet Sasha TyGirlz dolls in January, just as Obama was being inaugurated to office.

A Ty spokesperson said they were not modeled after the first children, after Michelle Obama made her resentment public, saying it was wrong to use her family members’ images to make a profit.

But where, and when, will the line be drawn between politics and advertisement? Because at the rate we’re going, campaign keywords will be incorporated into every aspect of life by 2012.

Politicians who employ advertising to get their message across to voters use a method of priming to flash images or ideas, trigger emotions, and finally persuade viewers to think and feel something – either positive for their party or negative toward the opposition.

That’s perfectly fine, as voters are consumers and vice versa. But in a society where details of party platforms are generalized to fit colors and wing sides, the lines between consumerism, profitability and civic awareness are blurred.

Using advertising ploys to gain a political advantage is fair game and even encouraged, as it is one of the primary ways to reach out to the voter who isn’t very involved in news or politics.

But to use political key terms to influence a product purchase can be taking it too far, especially considering the big picture consequences: The public will keep struggling with defining the difference between politics and consumerism.

Voting Americans need to make a valiant effort to observe political and commercial advertising in an objective light, taking into consideration all factors that will sway a vote or influence a purchase.

E-mail Jonathan Morales at [email protected].

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