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Editorial Advisory Board

Editorial Advisory Board Forum — Can Playing Politics Pay for DR Experts?

1 Nov, 2011 By: Thomas Haire Response


With just a year until the 2012 presidential general election, buzz is already heating up about the chunks of TV advertising time that will be swallowed up by political advertisers. At the same time, the expansion of some major not-for-profit groups into national cable DR advertising has been noticeable in recent years.

“I advised a campaign quite closely during the 2010 election,” says Doug Garnett, founder and CEO of Atomic Direct. “The absolutely hardest advertising job is to take an unknown candidate and create mass positive awareness of them within the very short time frames allowed by the political season.”

Can Playing Politics Pay for DR Experts?While most political and not-for-profit advertising falls into the short-form space, however, some DR leaders believe long-form is deeply underutilized. “Long-form advertising can be an incredible tool for both political and advocacy advertisers,” says Kevin Lyons, president of Opportunity Media. “Long-form gives them the ability to fully explain an issue, which might be complicated, to their respective constituents and ‘close the sale.’ The power of this medium is nothing new and was used in the presidential election of 1968 by both candidates, as well as the more modern examples of Ross Perot and Barack Obama.”

The opportunities for political and not-for-profit advertisers, as well as those direct response experts and agencies that would serve them, is the topic of the final quarterly edition of the 2011 Editorial Advisors Forum, where members of the Response Editorial Advisory Board discuss their viewpoints on hot topics facing the industry.

What opportunities are there for DR marketing experts to work with political advertisers in the upcoming election year? What expertise could DR experts add to political advertisers’ arsenals?

Garnett: Far too many political ads are wonk ads droning about legislative detail, negative scare ads (most of which research indicates have little impact on voting), or lifestyle ads — saying little more than the candidate is a “good guy.” But a candidate is a product, not a lifestyle. Political campaigns would do well to learn from our ability to make a product concrete and valuable — a skill most political ads are made without. Political candidates would also gain by leveraging our long formats. Some stories, especially when introducing a candidate, should be told in long-form. Love or hate the candidate, the Obama campaign leveraged long-form brilliantly to overcome the uniqueness of his skin color and background.

Tim Hawthorne, Hawthorne Direct: Political advertisers (candidates, not issues) get the lowest unit rate (LUR). However, DR is coded differently, so DR advertisers still get much lower unit rates than the politicians. DR marketing experts could work with stations and politicians to integrate pre-emptible DR schedules in with the fixed advertising.

Peter Koeppel, Koeppel Direct: DR marketing experts can use their skills to craft messages that will motivate the target audience to take action and buy media that will deliver an ROI. DR marketing techniques are well suited to campaigns that are attempting to raise money for their causes. Both DR and political ads are looking to brand, sell and maximize ROI, so there is a definite overlap in the skills sets needed for these types of campaigns.

Fern Lee, Thor Associates: The opportunity exists to create landing pages and/or microsites where politicians can track supporters and remarket back to them, creating a community. Google Analytics allows for geographical data, which creates a path for media strategy.

Kevin Lyons, Opportunity Media: There are a variety of unique skills that DR experts can bring to the table in the political arena. First and foremost is their strength in planning and executing large and timely media buys. The speed of production is another area where DR marketing has excelled. Then, there is the wealth of experience in long-form advertising, a powerful, but often overlooked, tool for a campaign.

Mike Medico, E+M Advertising: The greatest opportunity for direct response marketers is being able to quantify and measure the effectiveness of the candidate and the message. Simple “calls-to-action” with response being measured, as well as the ability to quickly manage and optimize media, can be very valuable in augmenting traditional general media schedules.

Greg Sarnow, Direct Response Academy: The biggest opportunity in the political arena is in media buying. While the reams of data available to political pundits are enormous, the accountability of DR media buying will definitely create more effective results — votes! When one couples television media buying with online marketing, candidates can raise funds, level the playing field in getting their message to the masses, and utilize their media dollars more efficiently simultaneously. That is a winning combination. Lastly, as political pundits analyze data from daily polls, DR media and the buyers who effectively buy media offer a countrywide and local footprint to effectively spend their dollars in the very places the candidates need it most.

Thanks to campaign finance law changes, most projections show 2012 will be the most expensive campaign season ever, especially when it comes to political issue advertising. How can DR experts help political issue advertising improve?

Hawthorne: The January 2010 Supreme Court decision effectively ending spending caps for political ads creates the opportunity for corporations and unions to spend without limit. Also, the increased creation of political action committees (PACs) in the wake of the decision will fund additional spending. And the number of “battleground” states in the presidential election is at an all-time high, with as many as 13 states in play between the candidates. DR experts have the capability to help in these areas, since they understand how to drive response for products and services that may be “newer” to the consuming public. Online content and fundraising have become crucial for all political campaigns. DR advertisers understand the multiple media platforms that drive online response and can help political candidates to political action campaigns.

Koeppel: DR experts understand the formula for generating results. This expertise is vital to political issue advertising, where you are trying to influence people to vote for your political issue and/or raise money for that issue. DR campaigns are designed to sell a product or service and political campaigns are designed to sell people on a particular issue, so structuring a political campaign with this in mind could lead to improved results delivered at a more efficient cost.

Lee: DR experts can help political issue advertising by creating an integrated strategy that allows for print, radio and short-form to lead public opinion through consistent messaging and then poll those people through a social media campaign that is supported by Facebook.

Medico: In the same way we ask people to respond to an offer for “free information,” DR agencies can apply the same tactics: create a sense of urgency, provide a compelling reason to respond, and include an effective call-to-action.

How has the expansion of TV and cable networks helped political advertisers in recent years?

Garnett: For campaigns willing to step away from their Nielsen addictions, this expansion offers lower cost opportunities to get your messages out. And it gives candidates new opportunity to direct their TV advertising to specialized audiences.

Hawthorne: Political spending is expected to rise to $8 billion in 2012. That’s a 40-percent jump over the last presidential cycle in 2008. Even more striking, TV spending is expected to jump from $2.8 billion in 2008 to more than $5 billion. That’s paying a lot of bills for networks, and the number of niche networks helps political advertisers find the right demo for their messages. During the past couple of years, we have seen more launches of networks targeting an older demographic. These include Antenna TV, MGM HD and This TV. Political dollars will be significantly targeted to an older demographic, especially in light of balanced budget concerns and the impact on the Social Security net for this older demographic.

Koeppel: The expansion of TV/cable networks will allow political advertisers to more precisely target various demographic groups that are key to the success of their campaign or issue. The growth of niche cable networks combined with the in-depth research that political advertisers have on key segments of the population could translate into more targeted/cost efficient political campaigns.

Lee: Although cable programmers long ago surpassed broadcast networks in viewers, politicians still buy broadcast and not cable. So the expansion of TV ads offered by local broadcast (not cable) stations gives political ad buyers comfort that they are being seen and heard and reaching the demographic they seek. The expansion of networks has helped political advertising, if anything, by creating tools that provide integrative marketing with “local” media.

Lyons: The expansion and popularity of cable networks have helped political advertisers greatly. It has given them an abundance of media outlets on which to convey their messages and expand their reach. More importantly, it has provided those advertisers with unique and targeted outlets for their messages.

Medico: They provide access to specific demographic groups based on niche programming. Political advertisers can also tailor the message based on those same demographic groups so their advertising will resonate.

How are political issue advertising and not-for-profit advertising similar? How do political issue advertising and not-for-profit advertising differ?

Garnett: My experience is that they are much more different than they are alike. Yes, both espouse causes. But, in truth, a politician is seeking your vote for obviously selfish, as well as unselfish, reasons. We all know that. With not-for-profit ads, the foundation or organization can rely on immediate acceptance of their good intent. So, a not-for-profit succeeds by presenting its case for giving that benefits the giver primarily by allowing them to do something good. But, voting for a politician is a much more complicated reality and takes place for some very selfish reasons.

Hawthorne: They are considered more similar than different by the TV stations. Someone is always backing or contributing to the not-for-profit advertiser, and they pay the highest rates and are treated as issue advertising. Any political advertising that is not candidate advertising is treated as issue advertising.

Koeppel: Political advertising tends to be harder hitting, while not-for-profit advertising typically doesn’t use the hardball techniques employed by political campaigns. Political ads are typically designed to run at a high level of frequency over a limited period of time, whereas not-for-profit advertising campaigns are often designed to be ongoing.

Lee: There are statement makers and statement takers. This question can only be answered in the context of what is the “engagement” goal of the advertisement, whether it be political issue or not-for-profit. Both types of ads must create a call-to-action, but political ads speak to values, while not-for-profit spots speak to emotion.

Lyons: Political issue advertising and not-for-profit advertising are similar in that each needs to tell a story, explain an issue and offer a solution. Each form of advertising needs to create an action or response from the viewer.

Medico: The appeal of both is generally based on motives other than “getting a great deal” or “I have to have this product/offer.” The appeal to respondents is on a more emotional level, and that is the primary similarity. You can also create an affinity among the various respondents to the specific message. The primary difference is you create an “altruistic” motivation to respond to a non-profit message, but a more visceral reason to respond given the political message.

How could DR agencies and experts be doing themselves a disservice by not looking more closely at the opportunities provided them by prospective not-for-profit or political advocacy clients?

Garnett: This one’s tough. The money in the political arena primarily goes to media and not to developing the ads. As a result, politicians pay pittances to agencies. And, until you get to the most major of races, the people who make the ads are rewarded merely by being involved while making a tiny bit of money. Not-for-profit is different. Not-for-profits will generally pay valid market rates so there is a better business opportunity.

Hawthorne: A $600 billion jump in political TV spending between 2008 and 2010 influenced a measured drop of $500 billion in short-form DRTV spending in the same timeframe. Political spending represented more than 12 percent of all TV ads in the top 20 DMAs in the five-week period prior to the 2010 midterm election. These figures represent a huge windfall opportunity for direct response leaders who can find a way to share their expertise and represent political advertisers in 2012 and election years beyond.

Koeppel: There is definitely potential for the DR industry in both the not-for-profit and political ad arena. However, gaining access to these markets requires the right expertise, connections and a track record of success.

Lee: DR agencies/experts are doing themselves a disservice by not looking more at not-for-profit and political advocacy clients when they believe the only measurement of ROI is converted dollars rather than votes, membership or joining a conversation. DR is about transactional marketing — “action” being the key.

Lyons: Yes, not-for-profit and political advocacy advertising are areas often overlooked by traditional DR agencies. Each of these areas represents considerable amounts of business for the agencies. However, these areas also come with their challenges, particularly clearance on the network side. Many issues can be controversial and difficult to clear on national cable outlets.

Medico: This is a type of advertising that DR was meant for. It has everything: emotional appeal, impulse-response messaging, appeal to like-minded thinkers, a reason to be heard or to give to something bigger than ourselves.


About the Author: Thomas Haire

Thomas Haire

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