“The way presidential campaign advertising is often discussed today is pretty much the least accurate way to represent it,” write Ken Goldstein and Elizabeth Wilner for Politico. Their informative article explains why there’s so much more than meets the eye to these ads, including lots of risk on the part of the campaigns and PACs that run them.
The next time you are tempted to say, “Advertiser X is spending YYY dollars in Z state,” consider saying instead: “Advertiser X has the resources to afford airtime in the expensive Y market.” Or, “Advertiser X is on the air during Y show/time of day in an effort to reach Z voters.”
Indeed, the dollar statistic is the most reported, but not always so meaningful by itself:
Spot count, rather than dollars, is the best measurement to apply in assessing the effect of advertising. A dollar spent in one market can mean something far different from a dollar spent in another.
For example, if an advertiser buys $100,000 in advertising in the Columbia, S.C., market, voters in that area will see it. If the money is targeted in the more expensive Charlotte, N.C., market, South Carolina voters living within that market can factor those ads into their decision-making. But the potential effect of that $100,000 differs greatly in terms of the number of spots it buys, and how many voters would see them.
Political analysts take care to distinguish among various polls because of differing methodologies, weighting and sample sizes. They should grasp why it is important to do the same for advertising. Equating dollars across two media markets is akin to equating a poll of 400 likely voters in one state to a poll of 800 registered voters in another.
PACs and other outsider groups have virtually taken over the process:
The Citizens United decision, as well as the 2002 campaign finance reform act, has led to an explosion in ads by outside groups. It spiked from about 10 percent before the campaign reform act to 25 percent in 2006, after it was enacted. After Citizens United, it doubled to 50 percent in 2010. Understanding this activity and how these groups’ messages are—or are not—in sync with those of the candidates is likely to be a major storyline in 2012.
But these outsiders, even if meaning well, may not always benefit the campaign they wish to advance:
Tone and focus are also key to assessing the effect of super PACs and other outside advertisers. The more these outside groups enter the fray, the more mixed the messages may become. They could undercut the impact of one side’s advertising.