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Ondine Fortune on Cable Advertising

By Ondine Fortune

In today’s political environment, it is becoming increasingly more difficult to reach voters.
Just a decade ago, a candidate could rely on the Big 3 networks, a few radio spots, and the local newspaper to deliver almost the entire electorate. However, given the explosion of new media, today’s political campaigns must rely more and more on cable programming and its branded website companions as sources to reach voters.

Media planning and buying, once the unwanted stepchild of the political process, is now crucial to ensuring a targeted and more importantly an efficient use of your campaign dollars. With more choices and opportunities to reach voters comes more risk that one can waste away precious dollars with the wrong message, at the wrong time, to the wrong audience.

Take a Closer Look at Cable.
Over the past decade, we have seen a rapid erosion of viewers turning from broadcast television to cable. The share of viewing on broadcast has declined from 69% in 1991 to 51% in 2007, while the share of viewing on cable has increased from 22% to 38% respectively. Additionally, the 14-week Writer’s Guild of America (WGA) strike accelerated broadcast erosion, with cable now owning higher aggregate program ratings in every major demographic post strike. (Source: Cabletelevision Advertising Bureau ’07 Midterm Report)

The explosion of original cable programming now offers vehicles that draw sizable audiences, with real and sustainable ratings.  These ratings have only continued to increase, 24% since 2001 where broadcast has decreased 16%. Very few took note that TNT’s original series “The Closer” pulled a 9.1 national rating (same as Law & Order in its Wednesday time slot on NBC) in their season premier; that Bravo’s Project Runway season finale was the highest rated show for the week on cable; or that a niche network like History is reaching 2.6 million adult 25-54 impressions on Monday nights! Not to mention that original shows on cable networks took home numerous Emmy Awards and 10 of 11 categories at the Golden Globes including best series (AMC’s Mad Men), best actor (Jon Hamm, Mad Men) and best actress (Glenn Close, Damages, FX) in 2007. These are programs that viewers are passionate about and they reach voters who are watching every day.

Cable networks are also constantly reinventing themselves, offering unique shows that are willing to target all demographics with its shorter seasons. Cable nets continue to offer hit show after hit show and a variety that offers something for everyone. This, while network TV continues to use a strategy of targeting the masses by attempting to copy one network’s success with its own replica of that hit show’s premise. Broadcast does reach the masses, but cable strength remains in its targeting ability. When balanced smartly with other media a candidate can deliver their message to everyone they need to reach and not leave anyone outside the voting booth.

Although political advertisers may have been slow to the cable trough, the audience move to cable has not been missed by the commercial advertiser. National and local advertisers have made dramatic shifts in their advertising budgets from traditional broadcast to ad-supported cable. Major advertisers like Verizon (up 36%) and Sprint (up 46%) have shifted their dollars to the highly targeted cable programming. In fact, on average 65% of the gross ratings points purchased by most top-200 advertisers are on cable. 

For years, political advertisers have understood the value of CNN and Fox News. The research has steadily shown that these networks are where voters get informed and are a more trusted resource than local news.

However, where campaigns have missed the boat has been with the large audiences and efficient buys on the “entertainment” networks. We all know Republicans are more likely to view Fox News, but national Nielsen research shows they are also watching ESPN, The Golf Channel, The Hallmark Channel, History, HGTV, and The Travel Channel among others. Yes, Democrats are more likely to view CNN and MSNBC, but they are also watching Bravo, Style Network, E! Entertainment, and A&E among others. When buying network television, would you ONLY buy one network; or only news? Never! So, why would you make only one selection on cable?

In days gone by, political consultants believed that cable was limited, that traffic changes were not quick enough, dayparts too broad, and not enough time offered, but those days are gone forever. The majority of markets can change copy within 24-hours and all dayparts are being offered with more inventory than ever. Today’s modern political consultant knows that there are simply no more rational excuses for not allowing cable to carry the heavy water for your campaign.

Although viewing habits vary from state-to-state and market-by-market, (fortunately) there is research available. Be sure your team has a media buyer that knows how to get their hands on the correct data and that they understand how to use it. It could be the difference between winning and losing your campaign.

The effective use of targeted cable is often given credit for the re-election of George Bush. The Bush campaign used cable to communicate to certain demographics and leverage key message points in the appropriate programming environment. Industry research shows that expanding the traditional media plan away from solely network TV and a few cable news shows to a broad platform of seventeen different cable networks will dramatically increase your reach and frequency and the efficiency of your media plan.

“As a longtime political strategist, I know it is imperative to manage a campaign’s ad dollars in the most targeted and effective way possible.  Local, regional, and/or national cable simply must be in the mix. But a campaign needs to be smart about how you integrate cable into the overall media buy,” said Garry South, Campaign Manager for Governor Gray Davis.

“In Gov. Gray Davis’s challenging 2006 re-election, we used local cable’s unique ability to micro-target vastly different constituencies with unique messages.  For example, we were the first statewide campaign in California history to run spots in the basic Asian languages—Mandarin, Cantonese, Japanese, Korean, Vietnamese and Tagalong—via cable.  Our cable specialist helped us utilize individual cable systems and the market interconnects available to give the campaign a cost-effective and highly targeted cable strategy that reached the most diverse electorate of any state in America.  Any campaign that does not have a smart cable plan in the mix is losing out—and may well lose altogether,” South added.

Throughout history, winning politicians have distributed their message where the majority of their voters would hear it. Today their voters are watching Cable TV shows.
If you plan to win … join your voters by taking a hard look at the value of expanding your campaign’s cable plan.

Ondine Fortune is President and Media Director of Fortune Media, Inc.
A national media buying service based in Southern California.
She has been the cable strategist of choice for hundreds of
campaigns for the past 14 years specializing in Statewide
and Congressional Candidates and Ballot Issues.
She can be reached at Click here to contact this Author

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