Advertising has a lot to contribute to politics. Despite our dismay with the self-serving nature of political discourse, intellectually we hold politics to be a higher calling in life, one that ideally comes from selflessness and the greater good. At least on paper.
But the communication of peddling goods, advertising, has more in common with politics than most would willingly concede, because it happens to demean puritan government with a mammonesque trade like advertising in an unholy marriage.Surprisingly, advertising is based on discipline. One must hammer the same consistent message again and again, like propaganda, to win the conscience and purchasing power of the consumer. How different is that from politics? Simply substitute the consumer with a voter, and buying power with votes and you have the same process at work.
In the US, advertising consummated its relationship with politics a long time ago. The results are disastrous. Gloss has overtaken substance, appeal has overcome integrity. A cursory look at the recent presidential nomination process in the US shows a disturbing lack of issues being hammered out, none of the candidates are taking strong positions and are happy to present themselves in simple terms to the electorate, such as the “experienced” candidate, or the candidate who brings back “hope.”
But I must say that in Pakistan, at least, it may make some sense for some of the leading politicians to take a leaf out of an advertising textbook and at least stick to some kind of message consistently.
Let’s start with deposed chief justice Iftikhar Chaudrey. He has taken back to the streets with bar council meetings. The message he needs to be sending out is clear: we need rule of law, we need an independent judiciary, and we need it now.
But he is beginning to stray from the core message. He did not need to give a veiled reference to the PML-N and a pat on the back for having the courage to leave their ministries. He did not need to suggest that the judges who took oath after Nov 3 have the law coming to teach them a lesson.
Maybe the deposed chief justice has forgotten how important he is to Pakistan as a symbol. His dismissal started an apolitical movement that turned the tide of politics in the country with unique bipartisanship. His plight united the country. If he is to be restored then he needs to keep mum and not spew opinions that will make it difficult to restore him because it will look like his principles are now his politics. Morally there is no question that he is the one who took an upstanding decision, but his tenure out of the courts will become fodder when the restoration decision comes to fruition, and it may not be to his benefit.
When it comes to sticking to the message, or actually not sticking to it, the worst offender has to be Asif Ali Zardari. His mantra was twofold, first reconciliation and then restoration.
No one believes in reconciliation anymore, because Asif Ali Zardari is beginning to sound as if reconciliation means dismissing the application of the law. Second, restoration has been exposed now as the buzzword that may capture the public’s imagination but has dangerous consequences for the PPP. The restoration, so to speak, hurts the “reconciliation” plans of the party.
So, as both messages failed to deliver for Zardari, he has come up with a new one: impeachment. But he should have learnt lessons from mouthing off on restoration, a message means only anything unless there is delivery on the promise. The sudden taciturn jockeying on the issue of impeachment post the announcement means this one too will not accrue much.
The only party that seems to have taken to heart the lessons of advertising is the PML-N. They say only one thing: restoration. And it is to their benefit. But truth be told, they are also incredibly lucky. The PML-N is standing on the platform of the rule of law through the issue of the restoration. But this is the same party that once helped attack the Supreme Court, use muscle to have cases decided against the PPP and took part in getting a law burning pardon.
The only reason this hasn’t come up as often as it should is that the media is waiting for the restoration, having their fingers crossed that the law will once again be applied diligently. And curiously, when it was done recently by Business Plus, they were in for a brief illegal detention.
Whatever once may say about advertising, there is some truth in the fact that one can only use it as long as there is some truth to the claim. A shoddy product will not sell forever no matter how great the message or the advertising. The political landscape needs to stick to a message, one that they will deliver on. Even companies go out of business, and it must be said, so will politicians if the claims are insincere.
The writer is a Rhodes scholar and former academic. Email: fasizaka@ yahoo.com
Courtesy: The News, 5/6/2008