Political Ad Spending Less Than Expected

Jan 27, 2008  •  Post A Comment

There are growing indications that the pace of political ad spending is starting to slip as the presidential candidates ramp up for the biggest day in the primary season Feb. 5.
At the same time, both Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama’s campaigns have started asking about buying national advertising time on broadcast TV networks.
Traditionally, TV ad buys for the presidential primaries have been the exclusive purview of local TV stations and spot cable.
Republican candidate Rudy Giuliani’s campaign buy of two spots on “Fox News Sunday” recently was the first of any presidential candidate on national network TV in at least 12 years.
The Clinton campaign sought information about a mid-January buy in CBS shows including “Rules of Engagement,” “CSI Miami,” “NCIS,” “60 Minutes” and “CBS Sunday Morning,” but it didn’t follow those inquiries with any buys.
The Obama campaign had asked about availabilities this week and next week on three CBS shows—“60 Minutes,” “The Early Show” and “CBS Sunday Morning”—but had not finalized any deals by midday Friday.
With more than 20 states slated to hold primaries and caucuses Feb. 5 political observers and media trackers had expected both Democrats and Republicans to be spending aggressively on local TV outlets.
The Clinton and Obama campaigns are doing just that, but Republicans appear to be falling far short of projections.
The result: Unless there are drastic changes, overall spending post-New Hampshire could be closer to $50 million than the early projected $80 million. Forty million dollars of that spending now is expected on the Democratic side alone.
Except for Ron Paul, Republican candidates last week were advertising only in Florida, which holds its GOP primary on Tuesday. The Paul campaign also was advertising in Texas, which comes later in the cycle.
The campaign of Mike Huckabee began airing its first national ads over the weekend on CNN and possibly other networks.
“It’s still the tale of two races—the Democrats not waiting [from the results in]South Carolina to start spending in the Super Tuesday states while the Republicans puddle-jump from primary to primary,” said Evan Tracey, chief operating officer of TNSI Media Intelligence’s Campaign Media Analysis Group.
He attributed the lack of spending to candidates on both sides betting heavily that Iowa and New Hampshire would decide the race early, which left them now struggling to raise funds to buy advertising for a far longer race.
There was still a possibility last week that the Republicans would increase their spending. One question was whether Mitt Romney would put more of his own money into the race.
A Romney campaign spokesman declined comment on post-Florida ad plans.
Both Mr. Tracey and Matthew Dowd, a former campaign strategist, suggested the campaigns could still increase spending. They both pointed to Super Bowl Sunday—two days before the Feb. 5 vote—as a perfect opportunity for any candidate looking for significant visibility and buzz.
Fox’s decision last week not to sell national ads to the candidates on the game itself could lessen the potential impact, but that doesn’t mean the candidates can’t buy spots on local telecasts or game-related programming.
As of late last week, the Obama campaign was running ads nationally on CNN and MSNBC, but concentrating local spending on California, Tennessee, Connecticut, Missouri, Arizona and New Mexico. The Clinton campaign, meanwhile, was airing ads in California, Arizona, Connecticut, Tennessee, Massachusetts, Oklahoma, New Mexico, Utah and Missouri. National ads may be coming Tuesday or Wednesday.
While Mr. Dowd and others said an overlay of national advertising would help—Mr. Dowd suggested CNN, BET and perhaps Comedy Central for the Democrats and Fox News Channel and the Golf Channel for the Republicans—others said the focus should be local.
In Florida, for example an expected windfall of fourth-quarter political TV advertising failed to materialize.
“It’s been more than a dribble, but not an onslaught,” said Jeff Whitson, general manager of WTEV-TV and WAWS-TV in Jacksonville, Fla.

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