The upcoming midterms are a great demonstration of the bipartisan waste and inefficiencies in traditional television ad buying methods. Since Designated Marketing Areas (DMAs) don't align with many political districts, many places in the country are (or are about to be) swamped in campaign ads – from neighboring states. In some cases, campaigns spend up to 80% of their TV dollars in geographies out of their districts, to households that legally can’t vote for them. With this in mind, we’ve broken down the top ten DMAs by broadcast spending, identifying which parts of these top DMAs fall outside state lines and naming these places the “worst places to live” in the coming months, thanks to the blast of irrelevant campaign ads.
We’ll break down the top ten “worst places to live” in this blog post.
10. Rock Hill, S.C.
People in Rock Hill spend a lot of time outside. With outdoor destinations like the Riverwalk, a BMX course, and the Catawba River, it’s hard to blame them. Rock Hill is close to everything: Columbia, the state capital, Greenville and the Upstate region, and much more.
It’s also close to Charlotte, which is just over the border in North Carolina. The two cities are so close that Rock Hill falls under Charlotte’s Direct Marketing Area (DMA), meaning that every TV ad bought for the Charlotte market crosses the border into South Carolina, covering Rock Hill and other locales. And this year, North Carolina is hosting a hyper-competitive Senate race – expected to be one of the most expensive, and hard-fought, in the nation. To date, over 17,000 ads have aired at a cost of $11,547,640.
And 12% of that sum is spent airing commercials to places like Rock Hill, where viewers cannot vote for anyone in North Carolina. Until Nov. 4, South Carolina voters will be inundated with advertisements for out-of-state races.
Boston shares markets with Manchester, N.H., though the two are more than 50 miles (and some would say worlds) apart. One of these cities is more than five times the size of the other, as measured by the 2012 Census.
As New Hampshire’s biggest city, Manchester, not Massachusetts, will play a decisive role in one of the Senate races that is close enough to potentially decide the majority in November. But sprawling regional DMAs dictate that reaching Manchester also means reaching Massachusetts, Boston in particular.
With the highest waste percentage on this list (82.4%), the Boston-Manchester DMA is not a bad place to live but a terrible place to buy television ads. Senate campaigns in New Hampshire have spent almost $4 million this fall, about 82% of which is the cost of reaching Boston and other parts of Massachusetts that cannot legally vote for Jeanne Shaheen or Scott Brown.
8. East Moline, Ill.
East Moline is a typical Midwestern small town, almost 15 square miles. Across the river in Iowa, one of the closest and most hotly contested Senate races in the country is happening. And everyone in East Moline falls under the Davenport, Iowa, DMA, meaning that political television ads meant for Davenport also reach East Moline. No one in town can legally vote for Bruce Braley or Joni Ernst, but they’ll be household names once this is over, thanks to more than 9,750 ads and $2,825,720 in total airtime bought already by Iowa Senate campaigns.
All-in-all, 54% of all advertising buys made for the Davenport DMA go to households in East Moline, households who cannot vote in the races advertised to them.
7. Southern Indiana
Across the Ohio River from Southern Indiana is Louisville, the Kentucky state capital, and the epicenter of another competitive Senate race, one that could cost over $100 million once all is said and done.
The race in Kentucky doesn’t just have potential to decide the Senate majority, the competition is fierce, and already nasty – and every night, it’s broadcasted into the homes of those in Southern Indiana.
A full 25% of the cost of placing a television ad in the Louisville DMA goes out of state. In total, campaigns on both sides have spent more than $ $1,613,980 this fall to cover the forests, caves, and out-of-state voters in Southern Indiana.
6. Bristol County, Mass.
Laying claim to one of the strongest contenders for most honest-yet-entertaining official mottos (“We’ll Try”), Fall River is among the places a visitor could go in Bristol County, Massachusetts, in the eastern half of the state. Most of Bristol County borders the Atlantic or Rhode Island. This fall, it’s the second of those two that will be problematic for Fall River, New Bedford, and everywhere else in the county, as the Rhode Island governor’s race heats up.
Campaigns in Rhode Island have spent about $5.7 million on television ads – and 32% of that cost goes towards broadcasting to Bristol County, a waste of more than $1.8 million.
“Try” as they may, it's been hard for those in Bristol County to miss the 15,101 spots already aired in the lead-up to Election Day.
5. Cincinnati, Ohio
Already spending money to cover swathes of Southern Indiana (see #7 on this list), media buyers in the Kentucky Senate race face another expensive, enormous DMA in Cincinnati, where they have to spend to cover large parts of Ohio and Indiana just to reach a handful of counties in Northern Kentucky. The same message intended for viewers in tiny Claryville, Ky. (population 2,355), reaches students at Miami University in Oxford, Ohio, more than an hour away.
Campaigns have spent $2,611,980 to reach parts of Northern Kentucky, and it’s expected that 79.1% of that of that figure has been broadcasted to Ohio and Indiana, where voters cannot participate in the Kentucky election.
4: Gary, Ind.
Just as persistent as the people of Gary are the political ads that reach them year after year. Even though it’s about 30 miles away, Gary sits in Chicago’s DMA, meaning that ads broadcast to the Chicago market also reach Gary. For regional businesses, this might not always be so bad. In politics, however, that extra reach over state lines guarantees that 10% of every buy is wasted on people who cannot cast a ballot in Illinois.
This year, gubernatorial campaigns in Illinois have spent $26 million to broadcast 11,396 commercials to the Chicago area. Thanks to the broad, untargeted borders drawn by DMAs, almost 10% of that spend is wasted reaching voters in Gary, Ind.
3. Washington, D.C., and Northern Virginia
Those in the Maryland gubernatorial race know where key Democratic voters are: Montgomery and Prince George’s counties. Picking up a win requires hitting voters in these places. Unfortunately, reaching these voters with television ads requires buying ad time in all of Washington D.C., as well as parts of Northern Virginia.
Having already spent $7.76 million on advertising, Maryland campaigns will waste approximately 59.1% of every dollar spent to reach inside the beltway and well down Interstate 95 with irrelevant messages.
2. Fairfield County, Connecticut, and Northern New Jersey
In November, Republicans hope to unseat Andrew Cuomo as governor of New York. Both parties are spending heavily to reach voters in the New York metropolitan area, including suburbs like Westchester County and White Plains. They’ve already spent more than $16.2 million in total to reach the New York DMA.
They will also pay to reach viewers as far away as Seaside Heights, N.J. and Fairfield, Conn.
All told, campaigns will waste 38.6% of every television ad buy to cover New York, Connecticut, and New Jersey with advertising relevant to just one of the three states listed here.
1. Southern New Jersey and Delaware
One cannot run for office in Pennsylvania and ignore Philadelphia. Republican, Democrat or otherwise. It’s the largest city in the state.
Placing a television ad in the Philadelphia DMA – or 10,840 of them, as is the case so far this fall in the Pennsylvania governor's race – comes with an enormous cost. Reaching just eight counties in Pennsylvania (including Philadelphia), and around 3.3 million eligible voters, comes at the cost of reaching two completely unrelated states: Southern New Jersey and almost all of Delaware.
Around 36 cents of every dollar will be wasted this fall in the Philadelphia DMA, reaching almost two million people ineligible to vote in Pennsylvania.