Politics 2012: Lots of cash adds lots of ads to airwaves

By NICOLE DEBEVEC, United Press International   |  Oct. 21, 2012 at 4:15 AM
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From now until the U.S. presidential vote on Election Day, millions upon millions upon millions of dollars will be poured into advertising in states considered must-win for both President Obama and Republican challenger Mitt Romney.

In battleground state Florida, the Wesleyan Media Project found the Tampa market saw more than 6,300 presidential campaign ads Sept. 9-30, the three full weeks after the party nominating conventions ended, Tampa Bay Online recently reported.

That gaudy number puts Tampa behind Denver, Las Vegas and Cleveland -- all major markets in battleground states as well.

"It comes down to being a swing market in a swing state," Travis Ridout, co-director of the Wesleyan project, said. "Those are must-win states for both sides. It's ripe ground for both sides to try to pick up some votes, and that's why you're seeing so much advertising."

That doesn't mean viewers have to like it, though.

"I'm just over it," Joel Davis told Tampa Bay Online. "I'm over the sheer volume of them. And I'm not feeling like I can weed through what are facts and who's just trying to get the upper hand in the popularity contest."

There's a name for that reaction, said Erika Matulich, a marketing professor at University of Tampa.

"There is a concept called 'ad wearout,' which means that when our brain is saturated with a particular ad or even type of ad, we simply tune it out," Matulich said. "And if the ads are so plentiful that they are hard to tune out, the attitude toward the advertiser goes down because we get irritated or angry at being bombarded with the ads."

And if it seems there are lots and lots and lots of ads this political season, it's because it is shaping up to be one of the most expensive elections in history as candidates, the parties, political action committees and special interest groups are jockeying to get a piece of the viewership pie.

Nationwide, roughly 13,000 races -- local, state and national -- will generate $9.8 billion in political advertising, said Kip Cassino, executive vice president of a Williamsburg, Va., advertising consultant Borrell Associates.

"When you look at local runs, state legislatures, local elections, the city council, you have people who used to spend their money on pot luck suppers and lawn signs," Cassino said. "Now they're buying TV time. Everything's ratcheting up, and there's an enormous amount of money floating around."

Late last week, MSNBC reported radio and television ad spending crossed the $800 million threshold and was on pace to near -- or reach -- $1 billion.

Combined, the presidential campaigns and outside groups spent $810 million, MSNBC said.

Not surprisingly, the hottest ad-buy markets last week were in Ohio -- a battleground state.

While trying to woo the Hispanic vote was seen as critical for both presidential candidates this year, a study indicated that really wasn't the case, the Los Angeles Times reported.

The United States Hispanic Chamber of Commerce said Spanish-language advertising represented only a small slice of the spending pie, even in states with large Hispanic populations.

"Political commentators from both sides of the aisle have said repeatedly that 2012 is 'The year of the Hispanic voter,'" USHCC President Javier Palomarez told the Times. "But while political advertising spending records are being shattered, neither political party is investing a comparable percentage of their advertising dollars to reach these voters."

The study looked at spending April through September in Arizona, California, Colorado, Florida, Illinois, Nevada, New Mexico, New York, Texas and Virginia. Political advertising for local, state and national elections accounted for $358.9 million spent in those states during that time. Of that amount, $16.4 million or 4.57 percent was spent on Spanish-language advertising.

The Obama campaign has spent about 10 percent of its money on attracting Hispanic voters in those 10 states while the Romney campaign spent about 4 percent -- and both camps are blowing a huge opportunity, Palomarez said.

There isn't any appropriate level for Spanish-language advertising, Palomarez said, "but certainly both major parties should be prioritizing Hispanic voters and dedicating real resources to reaching those voters."

In reaching Hispanic voters, Obama has an advantage because of his success in 2008, observers told NPR. Analysts say Obama's Spanish-language ads now -- as they did four years ago -- connect with Hispanics in style as well as substance.

Romney, however, must do more to reach out to this important demographic, said Matt Barreto, an associate professor of political science at the University of Washington who helps direct polling at Latino Decisions.

"They need to really increase that outreach and make a connection," Barreto told NPR. "They need to make a sincere and solid connection with Latino voters, so they can get back up to 30, 35 [or] 40 percent of the Latino vote."

The group's most recent tracking poll shows Romney capturing slightly more than 23 percent of the Latino vote although his numbers are slightly higher in battleground states. The Romney campaign set a goal of 38 percent.

Advertising dollars aren't just going to traditional ad venues. Both campaigns are advertising in video games, NPR said. Video game-makers and websites can sell space on virtual billboards or banners -- and since the games are virtual, ads can be updated.

Gaming advertising is driven by information gamers provide registering for an online service, said Indiana University's Patrick Walsh, who studies political ads in video games. So, a gamer in a solid red or blue state may not see an ad or banner that a gamer in a battleground state may see.

"Signing up for any service, they're going to ask you your name, gender, location, address, those types of things," Walsh says. "So you can be really targeted with the technology."

To try to sway the undecided voters, campaigns have begun using consumer-centric advertising strategies that technology companies use to target consumers, again by using demographic data, The Hill reported.

The number of digitally connected voters makes social media an inexpensive and effective means to reach still-wavering voters, experts said. Plus, they said, Internet advertising results are specific and measurable.

Peter Greenberg, head of Twitter's political ad sales, attributed the effectiveness of net ads to the ability to pinpoint -- geo-targeting -- the recipient of a particular message.

"Geo-targeting can target by interest, location, mobile device access," Greenberg told The Hill. "It's pretty remarkable how minutely we can target."

Google, too, can drill down ads to the gender, age and ZIP code.

And because technology is so precise, experts told The Hill, a campaign can capture how many clicks an ad gets and how long a viewer watches a campaign video.

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