More Political Ad Dollars: Good For Stations, But Not Much Else

Broadcast stations can’t complain about the political process in one key regard: Political advertising has been way up  and continues to climb. But what is its effectiveness -- “ROI” -- in the long term? Maybe not that much.

The number of commercials for Congressional campaigns is 70% higher for the mid-term elections through July than four years ago -- a little over 300,000 Senate race ads versus 150,000 in 2010. For the House of Representatives, there have been nearly 140,000 commercials, up from 80,000.

Why these big increases?  In 2010, the Supreme Court, ruling in the Citizens United case, said the First Amendment prohibited government restrictions on independent political expenditures by corporations and other groups.

In one regard, the big political groups and lobbyists can do the dirty work by running negative campaigns while the politicans themselves take the high road. But the end result is much confusion.  Republican strategist Mark McKinnon toldThe New York Times: “The irony is that the more political ads air on TV, the more voters tune them out... It just becomes a white noise. The return on investment is absurd.”



TV and radio stations will gladly take the money. In a time of perhaps lackluster local spot sales in some categories, political ads have been a savior. More important, political groups -- unlike candidates who might in key times be  fund-raising, not buying commercials -- are spending on messaging for major ongoing issues all year around.

Much marketing these days is about seeking a return on media investment. But political advertising may have a different goal: negative or confusing messaging.

Few if any consumer brand marketing efforts offer this kind of advertising. Most are trying to get consumers to make positive decisions on products or services.

Will Ritter, co-founder of Poolhouse Digital, a Republican advertising company, told the Times: “By November, swing voters won’t know whether they’re voting for a Republican or saving themselves 15% or more on car insurance.”

Now go and make your quick and informed decision -- in theory -- on public governance.

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