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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Iowa Ads Offer Clues for Dems

Democratic strategists should be paying close attention to Republican TV ads in Iowa. This is the opening salvo, and the quality, quantity, message content, slant, tone, placement choices, cost and other aspects of the GOP ads offer clues about how to beat their eventual presidential nominee. We can also get a sense of how good their ad machinery is, as the 2016 campaign cranks up.
Toward that end, Nick Corosaniti’s “As Iowa Caucuses Approach, Political Ads Swamp TV Channels” provides an instructive introduction. Among Corosaniti’s observations:

Ted Cruz was accused of proposing a socialist tax plan. Marco Rubio was called out for supporting “amnesty” for illegal immigrants. Bernie Sanders denounced the “rigged economy,” and Jeb Bush’s campaign was called a “train wreck.”
And that was just during the 6 o’clock news.

Corosaniti goes on to note that presidential candidates of both parties have spend $40 million on ads, $6 million in the last week for 167 different political ads. That tells you that campaigns nowadays allocate on average roughly a third of their ad budgets for TV for the final two weeks leading up to a primary.
As for who is spending what, Corosaniti notes, “Trump is spending $500,000 a week of advertising on the air in the state…While Mr. Bush is spending robustly in New Hampshire, the super PAC supporting him, Right to Rise, has spent nearly $8 million in Iowa and is running a battery of ads attacking Mr. Rubio, John R. Kasich and Chris Christie, in hopes of weakening them before they head to New Hampshire…” Debate drop-out Rand Paul is still in the Iowa ad game, and his Super-PAC has a couple of ads airing on the local NBC affiliate. Carson’s campaign is “one of the biggest spenders in Iowa with more than $2.6 million on television.”
Iowa ad spending is a little different, owing to its status as the first state-wide caucus. Further, “In Iowa, you’re talking about a fairly small universe of caucusgoers, compared to the general population or general voting public,” said Carl Forti, a Republican strategist. “You’re spending a lot of money to talk to very few.” It’s important to remember, however, that Iowa is a sometimes swing state.
Corosaniti has some interesting insights about the choice of ad placement in Iowa:

..Saturday night’s “Wheel of Fortune,” for example, was blanketed by 11 political ads from nine candidates in its half-hour broadcast. The show’s older audience, including many holdovers who watch the nightly news, was a high-value target for candidates in both parties.
The weekend’s major sports events allowed some ads to avoid being lost in a blizzard of others. Viewers of the United States Figure Skating Championships on NBC saw a 60-second advertisement from Mrs. Clinton’s campaign twice in 20 minutes.
And during the A.F.C. championship game between the New England Patriots and the Denver Broncos, viewers saw Mr. Rubio make trick football catches in one ad and Mr. Cruz go duck hunting with Phil Robertson of the TV show “Duck Dynasty” in another.

It’s no surprise that football rules when it comes to reaching white working-class voters, who conservative Republicans view as a major element of their base in every state. The ‘Wheel of Fortune’ placement is likely designed to reach high-turnout, low-to-medium information, working-class seniors.
It’s kind of pathetic, when you think about it, that crappy TV programs are among the most effective pathways to reach key constituencies. Are the better news documentaries or more substantial movies so unworthy of political ad placement?
I gather that most of the GOP ads are pretty shrill, although Corosaniti doesn’t shed much light on the tone choices of individual candidate ads, other than one of Carson’s spots, which mirrors his comparatively low-key personality: “Accompanied by slow music, it showed Carson supporters with outstretched hands, as the written words “Our Hands” gave way to “Heal,” “Learn,” “Unite” and more.” He ads that Carson is also working the hell out of Facebook feeds. Doesn’t sound like that one is going viral.
I assume that Democratic ad wizards are watching GOP political spots closely. Most of the aggregate data about how individual ads are perceived will remain secret. But so far there is not much buzz about any specific ads, such as Justin Trudeau’s viral ‘escalator’ spot in Canada. The sour overall tone of the Republican candidates interaction thus far suggests that any of them pitching an optimistic spirit for the future under a Republican administration will not be an easy sell.
Online ad share is growing fast. But broadcast television still rules, when it comes to ad budgets and is projected to account for about $8.5 billion of the $11.4 total ad spending for 2016, compared to about $1 billion for digital media, according to Issie Lapowsky, writing in Wired. But Larry Grisolano, who supervised political ads for the 2008 and 2012 Obama campaigns, predicts that in 2016 presidential campaigns will allocate “nearly a quarter of their spending to digital media.”
The distinction may prove to be moot, sooner than later. With the arrival of the new generation of affordable ‘Smart’ TVs, a rapidly growing share of viewers will be checking their emails and Facebook feeds on the couch, creating a far more seamless viewer connection between both forms of media. Viewers are increasingly watching the same ads on their TVs, iPads and cell phones — an accelerating trend which could favor Democrats’ ability to reach younger voters.

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