Everyone knows that in 2012 the Obama campaign trounced the Romney campaign in use of technology to get out the word and get out the vote. Both with social media and in-house tools (Obama’s geek squad v. Romney’s ill-fated ORCA) the GOP’s efforts were laughable.
But there was also traditional TV advertising. 2012 brought record output in this medium, with almost $2 billion spent and 3 million ads aired, according to NPR. However, not everyone was subjected to the same levels of exposure. Niche markets/demographic and key regions were the major recipients. For instance, Obama outspent Romney 12-1 in Spanish language ads, and residents of places like Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Florida saw nothing but candidates during ad-time for 6 months.
“Not only did we see record, pulverizing amounts of advertising on the air, but we saw it concentrated, so heavily concentrated, into just a small number of markets,” [Erika Franklin] Fowler told me in an interview. She’s a co-director of the Wesleyan project, along with Travis Ridout of Washington State University and Michael Franz of Bowdoin College.
The big-spending superPACs and 501(c)4 social welfare groups couldn’t qualify for candidates-only ad rates. The Romney campaign was notably inefficient in its ad buying strategy; Romney and the outside groups supporting him wound up spending more money for fewer spots than Obama. And TV stations in battleground states know how to price their airtime.
But the presidential ad spectacle was missed by two-thirds of the country. For better or worse.
Fowler says the record numbers of ads “were crammed into just a few key battleground markets. If you were in one of those markets, you were getting inundated from May right up through election day, whereas if you were outside of those markets, you didn’t really see very many presidential ads, if [any] at all.”
Of the nation’s 210 media markets, Fowler says just 71 drew more than 1,000 ads over the months of the presidential general-election contest.”
To me, the big question that leaps out is…was anyone watching these ads? And, even more important, will they be watching in the future?
This past Saturday in the Washington Post, Dan Balz answered these questions by saying, 1) Not really, and 2) Definitely not.
“For the first time, fewer than half (48 percent) of all voters say that live TV is their primary source for watching video content. The second-most-preferred form for viewing is through recorded programming, but a majority said they skip 100 percent of the ads when they watch.”
So even as campaigns spend more on saturation advertising, people watch less and less of it. Hugh Hewitt had Balz on his show last night (listen here, read here), and said “Boy, the days of the Mike Deever dominance of campaign are behind us, aren’t they?” And, as Balz points out, the trend for live programming isn’t going to get better.
“Live TV isn’t going away; it’s just not as dominant as it once was. Seventy percent of those surveyed said they had watched live television in the previous week. But fully 30 percent said that, other than live sporting events, they had watched no live television in the previous week. For younger voters, it’s closer to 40 percent.
Video on demand, streaming, smartphones and tablets have changed viewing habits. In the past three years, according to the survey, the percentage of people watching streaming content — think “House of Cards” on Netflix — has roughly doubled, to 27 percent of the population. Viewing content on smartphones has about doubled to roughly the same percentage of users. Tablet viewing has jumped from 14 percent to 26 percent in less than two years.”
So…how do you advertise to people who do not want to be advertised to?
Knowing the old GOP, it would be to ratchet up the arms race and spend more on live programming ads (that no one is watching), “because that is what we have always done!” But perhaps the new RNC under Reince Priebus will be different?
The big problem will be that we don’t know what to plan for. Balz pointed out how much viewing habits and mediums have shifted in just 3 years — and we have nearly 3 years to go before 2016. To quote Hewitt again, “…it is very possible that the most important medium in Campaign 2016 hasn’t even been invented yet.” I think we can probably bank on that.
So, how do we advertise a Republican candidate to voters who do not want to be bothered with advertising? And, perhaps a bigger question, how do we convince the RNC/presidential candidate to forego a majority of traditional TV advertising and abandon the model of the 20th century consultants?