Breaking Down the MMJ Ad War in Florida

Ad Campaign

Every two years, around this time of the month, the television airwaves become crowded with political ads. During this period I spend a great deal of time watching and critiquing such ads, partly because I cannot fast forward through commercials, and partly because I’m boring and that’s what I like to do at night.

Most recently, my television, and most television in Florida, has become inundated with political ads for and against Amendment 2, the ballot measure which would legalize medical marijuana. There are two political ads in particular that are worth examining, one for and one against Amendment 2. This will help us see who is winning the ad war and who has a lot of catching up to do.

The first thing I noticed when I started looking for political ads is that the Vote No on 2 campaign has a lot more ads than the Vote Yes crowd. Part of the reason for this is the fact that the Vote Yes on 2 advocates are a patchwork of various marijuana supporters and organizations, not simply one concerted campaign.

The Vote No on 2 campaign, on the other hand, is a unified political action committee comprised of Florida sheriffs and other allies. A unified organization can do wonders in a small amount of time, so the Vote No on 2 people already have a slight advantage. Organization is one thing, but how do their ads look?

This ad is particularly powerful because it reminds Florida voters of how John Morgan made a fool out of himself. The raucous crowd shouting “For The Reefer!” and the poor joke Morgan made about “smoking a lot of grass” plays perfectly into their narrative that Amendment 2 equals legalization. They don’t need scary words, all they need is a few seconds of embarrassing footage spliced together.

Other ads on Vote No on 2’s YouTube channel take a different route. In these ads you get to hear the familiar talking points about Amendment 2 being “not what it seems” and “full of loopholes.” There is even one featuring a slideshow of children with parents and grandparents.

Each picture in the slide says something along the lines of “Say no, daddy” or “Say no, Grandma” as if the children in the pictures are begging their loved one not to approve Amendment 2. It is cute, but ultimately ineffective when it comes to garnering swing votes. Emotional arguments do not work well with Vote No on 2.

Now let’s take a look at the Vote Yes on 2 ad produced by the medical marijuana advocacy group United for Care.

The emotional argument may not work for the Vote No on 2 campaign, but it sure works for the Vote Yes crowd. Set to a calming blue background with soothing piano music, the ad plays into your emotions by emphasizing “easing the pain and suffering of Floridians,” even going as far to show people in a hospital bed.

It was a particularly nice touch to play up the “keeping the government out of the doctor’s room” argument. Florida is more purple than red or blue so the “keep government out” angle works particularly well, especially in the more conservative northwest region of the state.

The ad skirts around the loophole argument against Amendment 2 by emphasizing the “strict doctor supervision.” Considering Florida’s pill-mill history, it is doubtful that people will believe that argument. In order to sell Amendment 2, you really need to emphasize how the benefits outweigh any of the costs.

Will either of these ads convince swing voters? Possibly, but overall it is unlikely that any mind will change because of a single ad. The real purpose of a political ad is not just about convincing people to change their mind, it is also meant to get people to care about the subject and to encourage individual research.

Right now, I would say the Vote No on 2 campaign is winning the ad war; in terms of web and television presence they are doing far better than the Vote Yes campaign. However, unfortunately for the Vote No campaign, when you look at the poll numbers, it may not even matter.

Despite a decline in recent months, medical marijuana is still leading in most of the polls and many people are predicting that that lead will hold. The Vote No on 2 campaign is making a valiant effort to stop medical marijuana in Florida, but at this point they might as well spend their time and money on affecting regulation because they are likely fighting a losing battle.

William Sumner, a freelance writer and marijuana journalist, was a staff writer for MJINews from May 2014 through February 2018. You can follow him on Twitter @W_Sumner.

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