Pssst ... Wanna Buy an Ad?
by MacWilliams Kirchner Sanders, Mon May 14, 2007 at 07:16:34 AM EDT
There really shouldn't be anything scandalous about buying ads for political campaigns. But anyone who reads progressive blogs knows that there's a lot of concern about how it's being done by and for Democratic campaigns.
Matt Stoller invited us to post a five-part series, beginning today and continuing the rest of this week, to talk about one facet of media buying, cable TV, and to share our analysis of cable buying by Democratic groups in three hotly-contested congressional districts in 2006.
The analysis begins after the jump.
We will not be making the case that cable ads are a silver bullet that solves Democrats' problems. But we do believe cable is a very important tool that Democrats and progressives should be - but mostly have not been - using to communicate more effectively, and more cost-effectively.
And though these posts focus only on cable, we're hard-core proponents of what we call "converged" campaigns: identifying the right mix of "traditional" and new media, and then making sure they're all integrated and synchronized with the other campaign activities (field, earned media, mail, phones, etc.) so that the campaign's message is delivered at the right time to the specific audiences it needs to reach.
Today's post is a brief overview of cable buying and why it's important. Over the next four days we'll provide specific details about our analysis, including how much money was being wasted, why it was being wasted, and how to make smarter, more cost-effective cable buys.
But here's the bottom line: the Democratic groups buying in the three Congressional Districts wasted more than half of their money. And if they had taken full advantage of cable's microtargeting potential, their buys would have been twice as effective at reaching voters for one-third less money than was actually spent.
An Overview of Cable
In the 1930s, it was radio. In the 1960s, TV.
Both of these "new" technologies dramatically changed the communications landscape, as well as the political fortunes of those who did - and did not - take advantage of them.
New media technologies - online ads, social networking, mobile communication, and even cable TV - are radically changing that landscape again by providing more and better opportunities for microtargeting and communicating with voters. And as before, political fortunes can be determined by who does - or does not - take advantage of them.
Cable is an important bridge between a traditional medium - television - and new technologies, which allows advertisers to target and communicate with specific audiences in a way that is not possible on broadcast TV or even radio. But just because audiences can be microtargeted on cable doesn't mean they are being microtargeted on cable.
Simon Rosenberg (at NDN) and Pete Leyden (at NPI) have made a convincing case, reinforced by Jerome Armstrong, Kos, and many others, that most Democratic campaigns and consultants have failed to utilize cable's microtargeting capacity and that, in the process, they are wasting money and losing votes.
They're right. For too long, Democrats have ignored cable or simply tossed a few token crumbs in its direction.
It doesn't have to be that way.
The beauty of cable TV is that advertisers can target audiences both geographically and demographically. While audiences can be targeted demographically on broadcast TV, there's often huge waste on the geographic side - especially in Congressional and state legislative races or issue advocacy campaigns where the ads reach audiences who live outside the targeted area.
For example, ads placed on broadcast TV in Louisville reach voters in Louisville, central Kentucky, and southern Indiana. Why would a campaign spend most of its ad budget buying an entire media market (e.g. Louisville, central Kentucky and southern Indiana) when its target voters live in a small subset of the market (e.g. Kentucky's 3rd Congressional District)?
That's the only choice, however, when buying broadcast TV. And because broadcast TV reaches so many more people over such a large area, each spot that's aired costs a lot more money. Money that in many cases is wasted on people who can't vote for your candidate or issue.
With cable, campaigns can buy ads on the systems that primarily reach only the geographic areas where their target audiences live. That targeting is tremendously important in Congressional and state legislative races. But it's also important in statewide and Presidential contests because the voter file can (and should) be matched with local cable systems to identify and reach key persuadable voters. And that can be done far less expensively than if the campaign were just buying broadcast TV throughout the entire media market.
Cable also enhances a campaign's ability to target demographically. Different cable networks attract different demographic audiences, as do the various programs airing on those networks. Republicans are more likely to be watching FoxNews and Bill O'Reilly. Men are more apt to be watching ESPN and the History Channel, while women are more likely to be watching Food Network, Lifetime, and Home and Garden. Campaigns targeting Democrats, Independents and Women over 35 years of age should not be buying ads on FoxNews any more than the Democratic Presidential candidates should participate in FoxNews debates.
None of this means that broadcast TV is dead or that it should be ignored by campaigns: Not everyone has cable, and many people still get their local news from broadcast TV. But it does mean that campaigns and consultants should make sure they're taking full advantage of cable's potential to target voters geographically and demographically.
When it comes to buying cable, like so many other things in life, there's a right way and a wrong way. And over the next four days we'll talk more about both.