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TV’s treasure: Such is life in an election swing state

Fri, Oct 12, 2012

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“The thousand injuries of Fortunato I had borne as I best could, but when he ventured upon insult, I vowed revenge.” — Edgar Allan Poe, The Cask of Amontillado

How many political TV spots are too many? Most of us would say one, especially if they’re takedowns aimed at the guy you’re supporting. What about hundreds, even thousands?

You’d probably agree with Colorado Springs Utilities CFO Bill Cherrier, who said mournfully “I never want to live in a swing state again!”

Is there a saturation point? I guess not, judging from the amounts that third-party funders are dumping into the coffers of our four largest local TV stations.

According to a reliable source, the stations oinked down $5.96 million in third-party ad buys from May to November.

For those of us who are not Mitt Romney, that’s serious money. And those of us who support Mr. Romney should be pleased, since almost $5 million of the buys came from Republican-leaning groups.

KKTV was the alpha hog with $2.14 million, almost a third of the total. KOAA was next with $1.96 million, followed by KRDO ($1.37 million), and Fox 21 ($461,000).

Given that very rich people are handing over bundles of money to very smart people to fund ad-rich political strategies, these ads must be effective … right?

I doubt it. Suppose you’re mad at your neighbor because he leaves the TV on all night with the windows open. You ask him to turn it off, but he refuses — claiming the noise puts him to sleep and discourages burglars.

You retaliate, blasting him with AC/DC, and you move your bedroom to the other side of the house. He fires back with bright “security” lights and bass-heavy electronica. The neighbors ask you both to stop — you blame each other.

Political ads are driven by armies of consultants, ad salespeople and campaign staffers. Their common goal is simple: win.

It’s not like the long-running battle for market share between Coke and Pepsi. Both companies are selling carbonated sugar water (or, my favorite, carbonated aspartame water). It’s hard to tell them apart. It makes no sense for either of them to attack the other, because they may injure their own brand by doing so.

Losing politicians, political consultants and campaign staffers lose their jobs. Winners get to go to Washington, or Denver, or Albany and govern. Getting down in the mud and fighting dirty is fine. Why should you care if it damages your brand, as long as it damages the other guy’s brand a little more?

Big campaigns are run by battle-hardened combat veterans who once may have been nice guys — they may have run for office themselves once or twice. They even might believe deeply in their candidate or cause. But they’re not interested in losing.

Americans for Prosperity, the super-PAC that receives significant funding from the controversial Koch brothers, dumped $864,000 into local TV buys.

Jeff Crank, AFP’s regional boss, ran for Congress twice against Doug Lamborn — and lost. Sean Paige, Crank’s partner in crime, was appointed to City Council, then ran unsuccessfully for a full term.

Losing an election is deeply personal. You seethe, fume, and vow revenge — just like the guy in The Cask of Amontillado.” Crank and Paige want to win — and this time they won’t be outspent, outworked, out-nasty-ed or outfought. And like old warhorses whinnying in the stable, they want to be back in combat.

By the time Nov. 6 rolls around, campaigns nationwide will have poured billions of dollars into ad buys. It’s a battle of fierce, unrelenting, viciously targeted, slickly produced, irrelevant white noise.

Between May and September, national polls scarcely budged. Mitt Romney and Barack Obama were virtually tied, with Obama as a slight favorite. Obama started to pull away in early October, despite a Republican advertising blitz — and then came the Debacle in Denver.

The billions in ads meant nothing; 75 million people watched the debate, and Romney moved the needle.

Obama may be down, but he’s not out. The news on jobs is so encouraging that Republicans are crying foul, saying that the stats were doctored. And yes, the stats are deceiving.

Super-PACs and campaign spending may have created as many as 100,000 new, albeit temporary jobs in the past six months. That’s a substantial economic boost by any measure, especially if the reviving economy puts Obama back in the White House.

Jeff, Sean, the Brothers Koch: pull those ads and kill those jobs!

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