A recent article titled “Iowa Campaign Ads Show Power of Negativity in Republican Race,” stated that 64% of the political advertising on television was negative in tone during the month preceding the Iowa caucus. It brought to mind a funny story from the 2008 election. A friend’s 94 year-old mother became so frustrated with all the political advertising on television that she called 911 declaring she had an emergency -- she needed their help to get the political ads off her television.
Many of us wish it weren’t so, but political ads are not governed by the same standards as general product or service advertising, resulting in political mudslinging that has progressively worsened with each succeeding election.
Gingrich went into Iowa like a lion and came out skewered like a lamb. Kantar’s Ken Goldstein was quoted in the article saying that 45% of all political advertising in Iowa contained a negative tone attacking Gingrich, who slipped from a polling stat of 33% in early December to ultimately receiving 13% of the vote. This is bad news for television viewers. The negative attacks worked and television accounts for about two-thirds of all political spend.
Historically, the best predictor of a campaign’s tone has been the closeness of the race. The tighter the contest, the meaner and more negative the campaign. This wasn’t the case in Iowa. It was negative from the start. And the New Hampshire and South Carolina primaries picked up right where Iowa left off. Few believe this will change when it’s Republican versus Democrat and with 33 U.S. Senate seats, all 435 members of the House and 11 governor’s seats up for grabs. The aggressive Super PACS, and the hundreds of millions of dollars they’ll have at their disposal, will surely contribute to the mudslinging.
This will present challenges to both political and general market advertisers alike. We have all personally experienced the toxic impact of negative political advertising resulting in “flight,” tune-out, or worse, disdain. This is the kind of environment any advertiser would be wise to avoid.
In 1983, Dolf Zillman conducted a well-regarded study known as the “excitation transfer” theory that concluded that irritation brought about by one ad carried over to subsequent entirely unrelated ads. In 2001, Ferris and Bakker, writing in the Journal of Advertising, came to a similar conclusion and in 2006, Alex Wang of the UCONN-Stamford conducted a study that concluded that too many advertisements in the same product category fighting for consumers’ attention will likely lead them to avoid looking at any of them.
This year, it will be more important than ever to consider the total ecology of each medium’s commercial environment, as commercials that air earlier in a commercial pod impact the attentiveness and size of audience to all subsequent commercials.
We asked Media Monitors to recap the last month of the 2010 election (October 6, 2010- November 2, 2010) in several battleground states. They evaluated three network affiliates -- ABC, CBS and NBC -- during early news (5 p.m.-7 p,m.) and late news (11 p.m.-12 midnight). The results showed 1,927 political spots per market average, with an average of 7.1 spots per a commercial break and 2.8 political spots per break. Incredibly, 40% of all advertising was “political” with each television commercial pod averaging about three political ads.
Next, we analyzed the data from a different angle, projecting how many total political ads the average viewer was exposed to in a two hour period, Monday-Sunday 5PM-7PM for the same dates as above:
Cleveland: 945 ads
Denver: 910 ads
Detroit: 666 ads
Seattle: 786 ads
Cincinnati: 762 ads
Pittsburgh: 730 ads
Tampa: 851 ads
St. Louis: 551 ads
Philadelphia: 600 ads
Finally, we dissected it a third way, quantifying the average viewer’s political ad exposure across multiple dayparts for the month preceding the 2010 election. Again we went to Media Monitors to analyze. The figures are based upon the viewer being an “average” consumer of television (according to Nielsen. it’s 5 hrs/day), spending 50% of their viewing time with one of the three network affiliates (ABC, CBS, NBC) and with viewing time equally distributed throughout the above dayparts.
In Columbus, the average viewer was exposed to approximately 1,122 political ads on television based upon the criteria above. The other two-and-a-half hours of their daily television viewing on cable surely added to this figure.
In Pittsburgh, it was 1,276 political ads.
Historically, three-fourths of political ad budgets are spent during the last eight weeks leading to up to the election. This could translate to close to $2 billion of political advertising being aired on television in the two months prior to the election. This spells clutter and a questionable ad environment.
Media Monitors conducted the identical analysis for radio, concluding that only 10% of the ads running in radio primes (M-Fri. 6 a.m..-7 p.m.) were political ads providing an advertiser with a much cleaner and more effective advertising environment
In 2012, political candidates and general market advertisers need look no further than the radio dial to find the anecdote to the ad environment described above. It enables an advertiser to generate a powerful share-of-voice, massive reach, customization, ease of execution, unparalleled efficiency and online streaming and messaging opportunities -- all within a positive ad environment.
Radio is a wise, effective alternative to television in 2012 that deserves a closer look as the negative mudslide of political advertising begins sweeping across America.
And this just in: Florida trumps Iowa, with 92% of ads in Florida that were negative, per Kantar Media.