Exhibition Explores How Your Heart – Not Your Head – Is the Target of Political Ads

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I Approve This Message: Decoding Political Ads, Thursday, July 14 through Election Day, Nov. 8

The Toledo Museum of Art (TMA) is taking on the subject of political persuasion this summer with a new exhibition that delves into how imagery, music, sound effects, camerawork and words are used to stir emotions and capture votes.

I Approve This Message: Decoding Political Ads is a free. immersive exhibition that opens July 14, just days before the Republican and Democratic national conventions. It continues through Election Day, Nov. 8.

The topic may not be unusual for a presidential election year, but this isn’t a typical art museum exhibition. Visitors will not see traditional works of art or political endorsements. Instead, TMA uses video, graphics and interactive media to give a nonpartisan, insider’s look at advertising. The exhibition organizers aim to show visitors how rational decision-making is often overridden by emotions.


Peace Little Girl (Daisy) (Johnson, 1964)

“This exhibition is grounded in recent research into behavioral science and emotional response. We attempt to outline how political ads are consciously constructed to evoke specific emotions in viewers,” said Adam Levine, co-curator of the exhibition and assistant director of the Toledo Museum of Art. “Those creating ads know that emotional triggers override your rationality. And, we will show you how they do it time and again.”

The 7000-square-foot exhibition is divided into theaters displaying ads that focus on particular emotions, such as fear, anger, enthusiasm and hope. More than 50 ads will be projected. Frame-by-frame breakdowns of key ads will demonstrate how individual elements impact viewers. The ads start in 1952, when the first political TV commercial ran, and go up to 2012. In the “Fear Theater,” visitors will see ads such as the infamous Lyndon B. Johnson 1964 “Daisy Girl,” which begins gently with a little girl pulling petals from a flower and ends with nuclear annihilation. Commercials such as the Ronald Reagan ad many call “It’s Morning in America” will be among examples in the “Enthusiasm Theater.”

“Our goal is to increase visual literacy as it relates to advertising,” explained Brian Kennedy, director of the Toledo Museum of Art. Visual literacy is the ability to read, comprehend and write visual language – or the ability to identify, read and understand images and their sometimes covert or culturally influenced meanings. “This exhibition will look at all the tools used by political advertising to induce particular emotions.”

In the center of the exhibition, visitors will find a “Mood Room,” a space to take pause and “feel” how ambient images and sounds create emotion. Interactive, hands-on tools round out the experience, and visitors will be invited to create their own ads, among other activities.

“Since most ads have not aired since the original campaign, many have never seen them and will be amazed. Those who have seen them will now view the ads through different eyes. For more than 60 years with all the new technologies and research, political issues have remained remarkably similar – it is the messages to specific groups that have changed,” said guest co-curator Harriett Levin Balkind, founder of HonestAds, a nonpartisan nonprofit working to bring people into-the-know about political advertising. “You will never look at political advertising in quite the same way again.”

The free, nonpartisan exhibition is organized by the Toledo Museum of Art and HonestAds, who commissioned Thinc, an exhibition design firm. The exhibition will close Nov. 8, 2016.

HonestAds, based in New York, builds awareness about political advertising in innovative, compelling ways with organizations that care about political literacy and through its website HonestAds.org. HonestAds’ purpose is to decrease deception, increase critical thinking and expand civility; thereby, motivating more people to vote. As a nonpartisan nonprofit, HonestAds has no connection to political parties, candidates, PACs, super PACs or their sponsors.

Located in New York, Thinc Design is a leading design firm serving clients in North America, Asia, Africa and Europe. For more than 20 years, Thinc has designed projects for a wide range of institutions, including museums, science centers, aquariums, zoos, theme parks, corporations and governments. Notable projects include the American Food 2.0. USA Pavilion, 2015 World Expo; exhibition design for the Smithsonian Institution; the National Sept. 11 Memorial Museum; and the California Academy of Sciences. To learn more visit thincdesign.com.

This exhibition is made possible in part by Taylor Cadillac with additional support from Block Communications, Inc. and ProMedica, the 2016 Exhibition Program Sponsor.

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