Legal Disclaimers In Political Campaigns?

by , Jan 26, 2012, 8:37 AM
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In a 1952 film, “We’re Not Married,” Fred Allen plays Steve Gladwyn, a haggard husband to Ramona Gladwyn (Ginger Rogers). They are the unhappily married hosts of the hit radio show “Breakfast With The Glad Gladwyns.” When Steve learns that there are eight new sponsors for that morning’s show, he bitterly states to his producer: “When the revolution comes, Mr. Graves, the first blow struck will be against radio programs that mention more than 25 sponsors within the first 10 minutes.”

As the story develops, we are treated to a behind-the-scenes parody of commonplace advertising at that time. An outrageously staged portrayal of the idyllic American couple depicted in situations where their lives were made better by the products they shamelessly advertised.

In reality, cigarette commercials abounded then and were even endorsed by doctors --Camel claimed to be the cigarette most doctors smoked. Products promised to have almost miraculous qualities, and toxic chemicals like DDT were gaily promoted as safe and the way of the future.

Well, the revolution did come, and accountability stepped into the picture. All the previous leeway advertisers enjoyed was curtailed by the “legal disclaimer.”

The current average radio spot devotes a good portion of its 30 or 60 seconds to legal jargon, usually read at superhuman speeds and virtually unintelligible.

However fast they are read or however small the print may be, these disclaimers -- that alert you to the fact that you won’t really be able to drive your car as portrayed in the commercial unless you are a “professional driver in an enclosed court”—are supposed to act as a sentinel who is there to keep you, the consumer, safe from unrealistic claims by the advertiser.

2012 could be an interesting year for advertising. At least for an area of advertising that seems to be at the same stage as general advertising was in the 1950s.

As we gear up for a general election, we are sure to see candidates make all kinds of promises and claims to different groups of people, tailoring their messages according to the relevance they may have to their specific audience du jour.

The vast landscape of cyberspace is densely populated with innumerable stories, statistics, essays, and breaking news regarding the importance of the Latino Vote.  Issues like immigration, education, the Dream Act, and deportation are sure to be center stage in any presidential hopeful’s efforts to reach this important segment of potential voters.

Obama faces some serious disapproval among the same Hispanics who voted him into office in 2008. More than 59% of Latinos disagree with the way his administration has handled the deportation of unauthorized immigrants. Immigration reform was one of the issues he spread widely with Latinos during his first campaign.

Mitt Romney’s position on the Dream Act and his South Carolina campaign next to Kansas’ secretary of the state, Kris Kobach (the leading architect behind the tough Arizona-style immigration laws), has made for a bumpy ride down some Hispanic roads.

However, Hispanics have a history of underperformance in the political arena due to many factors, like mistrust in politicians and a general sense that their vote doesn’t count.

So, what are the candidates who are trying to convince Latinos to vote for them to do?

Perhaps if political advertisements were required to have legal disclaimers, more candidates would be pressed to keep their promises and more Latinos would visit the polls.

Who knows, the next commercial by someone promising to fix immigration issues could sport a very fast-speaking VO saying: “Candidate’s promises subject to immigrant voter turnout and other unforeseen influences, which may make keeping them impossible.”

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