New political television strategy: The ad as news


You’re running for office. You want to get your name in the papers and on the broadcast news, but you don’t have a lot of cash, or you want to save it for later in the election cycle. The answer: Creative, provocative advertising that goes up on the internet or in a very limited air time buy, but which is strong enough to garner free airplay on the news.

According to Politico, politicians are pursuing this tactic all over the US. J.D. Hayworth is one, hoping a brand new swipe at his Republican Senate primary opponent John McCain (R-AZ) will go viral, according to a report in Politico. In Indiana, US Rep. Brad Ellsworth (D-IN) is fueling an ad with a small amount of cash and a message designed to get the attention of reporters in his pursuit of the Senate seat left open by the imminent retirement of Evan Bayh (D-IN).

According to Politico, the McCain campaign says Hayworth spent just a bit over $2K to get his ad on cable; in Indiana, the campaign of Republican candidate Dan Coats says Ellsworth is running a buy that is only in three markets, is short on reps, and that skipped several relevant markets, including the expensive border cities of Chicago and Louisville.

RBR-TVBR observation: Journalism stories about campaign advertising are generally horse race or tactical stories. They are generally only tangentially involved in a careful examination of contrasting positions on the issues of the day. Perhaps a silver lining to this trend is that eventually journalists of all stripes will avoid being duped into running ads for free, and will actually shift to more substantive reporting on what is really being debated. We can only hope.