Analyst: Political Ad Barrage Can Bring Diminishing Returns

President Clinton didn’t have a monopoly on all the great lines at the Democratic National Convention. How about this one from President Obama poking fun at the deluge of political ads: “If you're sick of hearing me approve this message, believe me – so am I.”

But all the spots may not be working. A law of diminishing returns may apply.

This is not a new concept of course. It’s debated every election season. There may be some exceptions, but the prevailing wisdom seems to always be more is more. Especially when it’s negative.

But Bernstein analyst Todd Juenger is going in the opposite direction with an analysis that applies basic rules of marketing to politics. He’s looking at candidates as paper towels or potato chips.

Juenger has worked at Procter & Gamble and McKinsey & Co., so it’s not surprising he would give that product-neutral approach a whirl in a report last week.    

(What does James Carville know anyway? Has he really won anything since 1992?)

Before he gets into the details of his analysis, Juenger provides grist for a Ph. D. candidate looking for a thesis: track DVR sales/usage right before an election and look for a correlation between the number of political ads running and level of ad-skipping activity.

Juenger, who used to work at TiVo, actually suggests the DVR manufacturer do that research. That’d be a high-power PR maneuver. The resulting press release would generate a river of TiVo attention. (It might even boost sales among exasperated viewers.)

So, here’s how Juenger breaks things down using a “classic” marketing approach: In order to succeed, he says you need a “good product at the right value,” strong advertising and a media plan offering “sufficient frequency to your target audience.”

However, if any link in that chain is weak, forget it. As far as ad load, he says there is a risk in overabundance.

Juenger cites long-time General Electric researcher Herbert Krugman’s conclusions in the late 1960s that a consumer needs to watch a TV ad three times for it to “register.”

“Additional exposures beyond that, (Krugman) argued, don’t add to its effectiveness,” Juenger wrote.

It can probably be said that no political candidate or ad guru has ever studied Krugman. If they have, they’re not disciples.

Albeit with more clinical verbiage, Juenger postulates that as some people see 10 to 15 spots from a campaign a day -- yes, a day -- in swing states, they’re going to be mad as hell and transfer their anger.

“The logic being, consumers would attach negative feelings toward the brand (e.g. presidential candidate), instead of positive ones,” he wrote. “If that were true, the shape of the ‘effectiveness vs. frequency’ curve would look different and beyond a certain threshold, spending additional money actually detracts from your marketing effectiveness.”

Continuing in textbook style, he says an argument could be made that people will look at ads for President Obama separately from super PAC ads supporting him or others from the Democratic National Committee.

But Juenger concludes people get it. They know carpet bombing when they see it and it’s fair to assume they know it’s one big Obama grouping and they'll be fed up.

Still, while Juenger may receive investor attention with his astute media analysis, he isn't likely to have an impact on anyone in the headquarters of the Obama or Romney campaigns. Karl Rove might laugh at the man.

Campaigns will keep spending. Notice how Obama said he was tired of the ads, but didn’t say they'd be curtailed.

Have money, will spend. Shoot first and aim later.

“Instead of being persuaded as to which candidate to support or, more importantly, becoming more likely to actually go out and vote for him, many bleary-eyed viewers may throw up their hands and say ‘a pox on both of you,’” Juenger writes. “Of course, since both campaigns will be equally guilty, perhaps the damage to either candidate will balance out.”

So, at the end of the day, even as both candidates spend a fortune, they may basically find themselves where they started?

Seems like a waste. But, really, is there any better way to spend money?

Tags: television
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2 comments about "Analyst: Political Ad Barrage Can Bring Diminishing Returns".
  1. Doug Robinson from FreshDigitalGroup , September 17, 2012 at 12:07 p.m.
    mobile rich media is a much more effective way to spend the $$.
  2. Don Mitchell from Freelance Media Professional , September 17, 2012 at 12:43 p.m.
    Mobile? Seriously? Now I can get spammy, scummy political ads on my phone to compliment the spammy, scummy robo calls I already get? Ummmm, no. Maybe if the billionaires behind the SuperPACs spent as much on salaries for those they hired as they do on buying elections, we'd be better off. Just a thought.