By Kevin Pulz, program coordinator, MATC television/video production and eProduction associate degree programs
Like them or not, political advertisements have been for decades and will continue to be the staple of presidential campaigns to reach potential voters. While recent court rulings have, perhaps unintentionally, muddied the waters as to who is actually funding these ads, the form, method and goals of political advertising remain the same regardless: Make my candidate look more palatable than the “other guy” in less than 30-60 seconds in a memorable fashion.
Negative or “comparative” advertising is very often designed to not necessarily get you to vote for whomever is ultimately supported by the message originator, but rather to persuade you to vote against the opposing candidate. This is no better represented than in the current presidential election, where staunch supporters in both the Clinton and Trump camps paint this as an election of the lesser of two evils. With polls that reveal historically low favorability numbers for both major candidates, one can certainly expect the negative onslaught to ramp up as the election draws nearer in order to convince the significant number of undecided voters.
Presidential TV Campaign Advertising Began in 1952
Presidential TV campaign advertising, as we know it know at least, is a relatively new phenomenon. Dwight Eisenhower was the first presidential candidate to appear in a TV campaign, a 1952 spot in which he “answers America.” This is a bit out of focus, but worth the watch: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5fy4DiElJVE.
These 20-second spots insisted that Washington was more or less a train wreck, and “Ike” was the guy that could clean it all up – a theme that’s been echoed now for nearly 65 years. There were also the fun, catchy-tuned cartoon spots as well that are far more memorable! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9fCboQKkwQA
Roughly $2.25 million was spent on television advertising for the 1952 election, which translates to about $20 million in 2016 dollars – a significant sum for a fledgling TV industry.
Jump in Spending for 2016 Presidential Election
In comparison, Advertising Age magazine estimates that TV/radio/cable/satellite ad bookings between Sept. 16, 2016 and Election Day have already reached nearly $300 million – that’s in bookings alone!
Experts have postulated that this number may balloon, with the Republican presidential candidate not needing to expend his cash to date due to “free” advertising courtesy of network and cable news, allowing for a late October deluges of anti-Clinton ads. Some value this media coverage exposure of Donald Trump as saving approximately $43 billion as of late March 2016. It is expected that spending on advertising for the 2016 presidential campaign will fall somewhere between $8-10 billion by the time the tickertape is cleaned up and you are returned to your regularly scheduled programs.
According to http://www.statista.com, Hillary Clinton ran 105,376 ads for the U.S. presidential election to Donald Trump’s 33,050, as of May 2016. There were 17,702 anti-Trump ads during the same time period. Here’s a full listing of the number of ads purchased on behalf of all the candidates for president: https://www.statista.com/statistics/564053/number-of-ads-aired-2016-us-presidential-election-by-candidate
Upswing in Political Advertising on Digital Devices
While we’ve become quick to reach the TV mute button, something media consumers may yet have to figure out is how to silence the campaign noise that is increasingly being funneled directly to our personal digital devices.
Predictably, the 2012 election set the record for campaign ad spending at nearly $6 billion. However, the amount spent on digital or online ads was measured as a relatively paltry $78-159 million, depending on the source and definition of “digital ads.” It is estimated that $1 billion will be spent on political advertisements for digital delivery during this campaign cycle.
(OOH refers to “out of home advertising – advertising designed to reach audiences when they are out of their homes, such as billboards, transit, street furniture, etc.)
For more information, see: http://www.recode.net/2016/4/7/11585922/facebook-google-political-campaign-ads
So prepare yourselves for the deluge of political advertising that is buffering right now on your phones, popping up on your favorite websites, and lining up to fill the time between your favorite broadcast and cable programs. While research still is inconclusive to whether political ads even work, candidates, PACs (political action campaigns) and third parties will ensure that they flood your life with paid political messages in the off chance that perhaps, just perhaps, you ARE that last standing undecided voter, ready to share, ready to click and ready to change the direction of this country once and for all.
By the way, if you love stepping back in time and viewing old political ads, this site has great resources for teachers and students interested in political commercials, as well as fun old school videos for the casual campaign commercial aficionado: http://www.livingroomcandidate.org/site-guide
LBJ’s ‘Daisy’ Ad from 1964 is particularly intriguing. It aired only once, but may have had the most impact from an advertising standpoint, as it is widely considered one of the first “attack” ads produced. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dDTBnsqxZ3k