Is your airtime being haunted by ghosts? There has been an epidemic of sightings for ghost advertising during the 2008 election cycle. There is precedent for the genre, notably from the Swiftboat Veterans ads that ran against John Kerry in 2004. The ghosts can be defined as argumentative advertising messages which are put out by political organizations but for which very little airtime is actually acquired. Instead, they are created to incite internet buzz and even more particularly, to earn discussion time and free airings on political and current events programming. The 24/7 news cycle at the cable outlets like FNC, CNN and MSNBC are especially fertile ground for planting these freeloading campaign communications. It is a great tactic for getting more controversial issues out for discussion – and the more controversial in the message, the greater the likelihood of both hot news interest and internet buzz.
The Swiftboaters spent very little on their initial ad flight, but media coverage of their attack ballooned its reach and effectiveness to the point where swiftboating has become a commonly used word in its own right in the political lexicon.
An article in the Washington Post notes what may be perhaps the granddaddy of all ghost ads, the “Daisy” ad used by the Lyndon Johnson campaign to paint the specter of nuclear war in relation to his opponent Barry Goldwater back in 1964. It was said to have run as a paid advertisement only one time. But its reach was vastly greater due to massive news interest, propelling it to a matter of history still widely remembered to this day.
RBR/TVBR observation: We make our living selling advertising, and as such, we don’t like giving it away. So if you find your news staff or talk show hosts spending a significant portion of their time running or discussing campaign ads during the program, rather than running them during an availability, you may want to discuss their choice of content with them, preferably with a few key members of your sales staff on hand for moral support.