TV Ads Are For Chumps

Happy New Year, beautiful MediaPost people!

I’m thrilled to be back at this here critiquing post now that everything is advertising. 

There’ll be more about that in the weeks to come. But for starters, I’m excited to write about the Iowa caucuses looming on January 15, because I get to use the word “barnstorming.”

Indeed, lots of the standard campaign and communications machinery used during Presidential elections seems rather creaky and antique. (My favorite line from election night reporting comes from Dan Rather, who loved to call the race “tight as a tick,” whatever that means — on a deer? In Great-Granny’s closet? )

But speaking of the stormers, Vivek Ramaswamy, the fiery, 38-year-old Republican candidate for President and know-it-all biotech bro, has become quite the advertising critic.



He announced last week that ahead of the respective caucuses and primary, he was pulling all TV spending in Iowa and New Hampshire.

In his typical aggro way, he said, “TV ads are for chumps.”

“Presidential TV ad spending is idiotic, low-ROI & a trick that political consultants use to bamboozle candidates who suffer from low IQ,” he exed on X, formerly Twitter. “We’re doing it differently. Spending $$$ in a way that follows data…apparently a crazy idea in US politics.”

The candidate, who is dangling at Chris-Christie levels in the polls (somewhere around fourth place), has a point. It’s a whole different world, and the power of TV ads has certainly been diluted since that last great performance, Reagan’s “Morning Again in America” from 1984, knockoffs or parodies of which are done to this day.

Still, this breakthrough in strategy does seem to coincide with Ramaswamy’s very low reserves of what he calls “$$$.”

When asked what he’d do differently sans TV buys, the “business owner, not a politician,” mentioned moving to a super-futuristic hyper-targeted approach that includes such things as “door-knocking” and “mail.”  Also, digital and streaming ads to get turnout from nontraditional or first-time caucus-goers.

Another problem for Ramaswamy is the antiquity of caucusing itself. It’s about as difficult as String Theory for me to understand, but according to NPR, the Republican caucus is simpler to explain that the Democratic one, and boils down to a neighborhood type meeting of politically active, like-minded people at which “someone from the campaigns might speak for a particular candidate,” and the process might take up to an hour. “Then voting happens by an informal secret ballot. Think: folded-up pieces of paper passed in and collected.”

To the larger point: Most Ramaswamy voters are new to caucusing. And it’s a paper process, which would seem to be painfully historical for them. Those who are experienced at this “pieces of paper” sort of thing would seem to be older -- the type of people watching television commercials.

In reality, in the throes of what must have been a “low IQ” period, Vivek did run a TV spot (below) featuring his former piano teacher.  It seems to soften his brutal attack-dog image after his performances at the Republican debates.

In the spot, piano teacher Mary Ann Jordan reads as sweet older white lady, but offers some not-so-coded messages about extreme conservatism. She says she used the time after the piano lesson to teach him about U.S. history — presumably the non-textbook version.

“I taught Vivek to love liberty,' Jordan says while an image of a young, adorable, bespectacled Ramaswamy is shown sitting at her piano during a lesson.

Intercut are shots of Jordan, playing, yes, “God Bless America.”

'Vivek is a true conservative,” she says. “I put him in that same category as Ronald Reagan and Donald Trump. He has the same ability and he's not afraid.'

I like the ad. It effortlessly shows his earliest influences while packed with conservative punch.  But apparently, he felt it didn’t perform for him.

Meanwhile, he maintains he has a “legitimate shot at winning the Iowa caucus,” even as he lags far behind former President Donald Trump, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley.

The firebrand says that the polls are “dead-off” and that his next-gen voters have not even been polled.

But this just in: Sounding amazingly like the frontrunner, on January 2 Ramaswamy X-posted :

“Forget CNN’s fake Iowa “debate” on Jan10th which will be the most boring in modern history.

We’re doing a live-audience show that night in Des Moines with @Timcast.”

He cited a string of CNN’s previous “shenanigans” against his campaign as the reason for dropping out of the debate.

Yup, TV is for losers. Let’s see where texting gets him.

2 comments about "TV Ads Are For Chumps".
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  1. Ed Papazian from Media Dynamics Inc, January 2, 2024 at 3:01 p.m.

    Great to have you back, Barbara.

    As for "candidate" Vivek I wonder if he knows that to most Republican voters as well as others, that streaming is "TV"?

  2. TIM MOORE from Maine Association of Broadcasters, January 3, 2024 at 12:39 p.m.

    The problem isn't the medium--it is the message--when will SMART marketers take over? Political ads fall into mostly 2 predictable categories:  1) Attack ads that seek to plant FEAR, 2) Image ads that seek to portray the candidate as Abe Lincoln without the hat.  The American public has tuned these out. That young girl--a victim of incest rape forced to have the baby targeting an incumbent ---was REAL--and it was effective. People vote on emotion, not facts. And while the aforementioned ad produced FEAR, it also connected on a real and HUMAN level. 99% of what is out there is a joke----campaigns think they have to SATURATE with the same dumb ad that no one believed the first time they saw it.  Maybe OK for establishing name recognition, but how about some inventive ads, some utilizing humor (YES, HUMOR) and honest portrayals of candidates--maybe even pointing out a few flaws--that would be both refreshing and more believable.  A really good marketer could get a ham sandwich elected--which is scary (unless there is mustard)---but that's another story.....

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