Press "Enter" to skip to content

Seeking Political Guinea Pigs to Abandon TV Ads, Focus on Digital—Interested, Paula Hawks?

We don’t have broadcast or cable television in our house, but we have nine devices, ranging from 4 to 42 inches, capable of streaming video and other Web content.

Quick, lend me a time machine, just so I can go back and make 1980-me flip his lid at the sight of the TV/communicator 2015-me carries in my pocket.

On that trip, I might meet all the 2016-candidates who keep spending money as if it were 1980

There have already been seven times more political ads in the 2016 election than at this point in the 2012 election, according to Elizabeth Wilner, senior vice president at Kantar’s Campaign Media and Analysis Group.

Or just try to digest the aggregate numbers. For instance, political TV ad spending will top $4.4 billion for federal races this year, up from $3.8 billion in 2012, Wilner estimated [Danielle Kurtzleben, “2016 Campaigns Will Spend $4.4 Billion On TV Ads, But Why?” NPR: It’s All Politics, 2015.08.19].

…and as if TV advertising were an efficient investment:

The concept of the wastefulness of TV advertising is more pronounced in congressional races. In one congressional district north of Chicago, a media analysis group reported that for every TV advertising dollar, 97 cents is wasted on voters with no relationship to the ads. O’Conner notes that politicians draw districts by partisanship, not media markets [Phil Ammann, “With Political Advertising, Digital May Be Growing, But Television Remains King,” SaintPetersBlog, 2015.08.31].

The voters Democrats want, the new, young voters who would like to be given a reason to believe that politics isn’t all reality-TV hijinks and that they can make a difference, are paying less attention to traditional ad-riddled television and more attention to their phones.

So Paula Hawks, Democratic candidate for U.S. House, why spend any money on television? The last person to try to oust Kristi Noem from Congress spent nothing on television and got 92,438 people to vote for her. Do all the other things Robinson didn’t—keep a stable and professional campaign staff, raise serious campaign money, and target the heck out of young voters with an unprecedented and intentional digital campaign—and you might well drum up the other 92,000 voters you’ll need to beat Kristi Noem. What do you have to lose?

But if the general election is an arms race of spending on ineffective ads that only affect a few people, what does that mean? Could campaigns radically pull back their spending with little effect? Could they reinvest elsewhere?

They could, says one expert — if they were willing to take the risk of being guinea pigs. And no one is willing to do that.

“Elections are one-time things, and [campaigns] don’t want to risk not doing everything everywhere,” said Diana Mutz, political science professor at the University of Pennsylvania [Kurtzleben, 2015.08.19].

Maybe you don’t have to do everything everywhere, candidate Hawks. Or maybe you can, by focusing on the devices in our pockets and backpacks that everybody uses to do everything everywhere, not those big, dumb, one-way TVs, but all those small, smart, two-way screens.

Do a tenth of what the media consultants tell you to do on traditional television. Do ten times what they recommend on digital media. You may spend less money and gain more voters (young, motivated, interactive voters who won’t just see your ad but will Like/Share/Tweet/text it immediately, giving you instant extra bang for the buck).

Paula Hawks, are you willing to be that guinea pig?


  1. Deb Geelsdottir 2015-09-08 22:12

    I think Howard Dean was the first political candidate to venture into modern media. Obama made excellent use of it. I agree that it has even greater potential now.

    Go for it Paula!

  2. caheidelberger Post author | 2015-09-08 22:43

    Learn from Dean and Obama, expand on those lessons in South Dakota—just how well can we reach a winning majority of voters online in South Dakota?

  3. Wade Brandis 2015-09-08 23:30

    I don’t think traditional political advertising will fade from broadcast/cable TV anytime soon even if some candidates find success in all digital campaigns. I’m not that educated on how the FCC regulates political advertising on TV or radio, but I think for antenna TV, they are required to run campaign ads during election years. For candidates who want to primarily focus on digital platforms like phones and tablets, they would still be required to produce TV versions of said ads if I am not mistaken.

    The numbers are dwindling, but there are still people who use broadcast TV or have a cable/satellite connection, which includes me and my family. Even so, I agree candidates should put increased focus on digital and mobile platforms as more people will use Netflix and other services for their TV watching.

    Oh, and Cory, you should get an inexpensive TV antenna to at least pull in the local SDPB and KELO channels. It can serve as a possible backup in case cell service or Internet service fail during emergencies. (unless the power goes out)

  4. caheidelberger Post author | 2015-09-09 07:25

    Wade, I tried the hi-def antenna from Target—even bought the more expensive one, thinking it would have more pull. I got neither SDPB nor KELO, just four spotty channels that cut out every few seconds. I miss the analog days, when a weak signal would at least keep flowing watchably through a little static instead of completely freezing and losing the audio and video.

    Sure, Wade, there are still more people watching broadcast or cable TV than hanging out online, but consider that online advertising is more targetable and thus more efficient.

  5. Nick Weiland 2015-09-09 14:20

    We are living in the midst of the Digital Revolution, where the internet, written word, and camera are the tools of the people. Don’t tell any Repub’s that though, we don’t want any of them catching on.

  6. Nick Weiland 2015-09-09 17:41

    *Visual Revolution

  7. leslie 2015-09-09 17:51

    in the last year i heard on some news outlet that television will continue to be the primary news source for the largest populations by far, well into the future. I have not researched it.

  8. caheidelberger Post author | 2015-09-09 18:15

    Don’t forget, Nick, the SDGOP pioneered some digital monkeyshines when Team Thune stirred up the fake blogstorm against Daschle, Dave Kranz, and that Sioux Falls paper.

  9. caheidelberger Post author | 2015-09-09 22:02

    Oh, and as for federal requirements, I don’t think those are in play. Rick Weiland made a number of videos that appeared only the Web, didn’t he?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.