It’s turning out that Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama’s fundraising advantage over Republican John McCain isn’t just fueling more Obama ads—it’s also fueling longer Obama ads.
As the Obama campaign continues to expand its purchases on national network and cable TV—including time on NFL football and MLB baseball broadcasts—it has bought more 60-second spots on local stations and local cable. The Democrat has started buying 120-second ads as well. That’s in addition to the 30-minute infomercials he has purchased on CBS, NBC and Fox to air Oct. 29.
With the presidential campaign entering its final weeks, Sen. Obama’s decision to forgo federal campaign funding in favor of unlimited private fundraising has paid off, giving him a large advantage over Sen. McCain when it comes to media purchasing power.
Sen. McCain’s advertising chief downplayed the importance of Sen. Obama’s spending on 60-second and 120-second ads.
“The longer spots comes under the category of, ‘Gosh, have all this money, what should I spend it on today?’ said McCain ad boss Fred Davis of Strategic Perception, Hollywood. “Kinda like their convention sets.”
As of last week, the Obama campaign had spent $154.5 million to air spots 292,463 times, versus the $94 million the McCain campaign and the Republican National Committee have spent to air spots 217,384 times. None of the McCain spots are for more than 30 seconds.
The Obama campaign started airing some 60-second ads June 20. It spent $12.7 million to air the 60-second spots 15,760 times through Sept. 1—a period of about 12 weeks. It has spent $21.2 million to air 14,158 60- and 120-second ads from Sept. 25 to Oct. 13—a period of little more than three weeks, according to research firm TNSMI’s Campaign Media Analysis Group.
The commercials included two 120-second ads, both of which featured Sen. Obama on camera talking about his background and beliefs. The two 120-second ads alone aired 5,513 times in a buy TNSMI’s Media Analysis Group estimates at $11.5 million.
The Obama campaign has also bought some longer spots on network TV, including 60 second spots on CBS’s the “Late Show with David Letterman” and “The Early Show.”
“You don’t do this if you are on public financing,” said Evan Tracey, TNSMI Media Analysis Group’s COO. “You don’t drop this much money. They have the quantity, and now in the long form, you can say they have the quality.”
Jim Margolis, the executive at political advertising consultancy GMMB who manages the Obama ad team, said the longer-form ads offer some unique opportunities.
“We think that every time Barack has an opportunity to talk to people and give them a sense of what he wants to do, it helps,” Mr. Margolis said. “The longer format allows detail, gives him a chance to deal with issues and proposals in a deeper way.”
The longer format also helps the ads break through the clutter of campaign commercials, Mr. Margolis said.
The use of the longer-form ads comes as the Obama campaign continues to buy both network TV and cable. Within the last two weeks, the Obama campaign has run ads on the Weather Channel, ESPN, Discover Channel, Animal Planet, History Channel, VH1, Comedy Central, True, the Military Channel and A&E. The campaign is also running ads on all the broadcast TV networks.
As the campaign moved towards its final stretch last week, there were several changes that affected which TV stations reap a windfall.
The Republican National Committee focused its advertising on Colorado, Florida, Indiana, North Carolina, Missouri, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Virginia, dropping advertising in Maine and Wisconsin. Meanwhile several independent groups are launching campaign related ads.
Lou Abitabilo, general manager of WBRE-TV in Wilkes-Barre, Penn., said the amount of political advertising the station is receiving exceeds the amount it took in during the hard-fought April Democratic primary race between Sen. Obama and Sen. Hillary Clinton.
He said while the station is always concerned with making sure regular local advertisers get on the air, the amount of political advertising hasn’t been a problem so far.
“If you run a station and watch the inventory you can handle and accept the ads,” he said.
The Obama campaign is also advertising in more states, last week adding spots in West Virginia. The Obama campaign is on TV in 19 states, including at least four the McCain campaign isn’t advertising in.
Advertising Age’s Maxwell Lakin in New York contributed to this story.