Ad Wars of 2016 Campaign Erupt in a Changing TV Arena
The New York Times
On WMUR, the dominant television station in Manchester, N.H., about 25 percent of commercial time is being eaten up by presidential campaign ads. Already this week, the candidates and their allies have fired off a dozen new commercials, a third of them negative, in Iowa and New Hampshire markets.
The “super PAC” supporting Senator Marco Rubio of Florida unleashed multiple advertisementsblasting Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey and his record. The super PAC backing Senator Ted Cruz of Texas portrayed Mr. Rubio as unfit for the presidency. And the outside group supporting Jeb Bush ripped into Mr. Rubio’s Senate attendance record in one ad and favorably contrasted Mr. Bush’s accomplishments with those of Mr. Christie and Gov. John Kasich of Ohio in another.
The ad wars of the 2016 election are at hand.
“We’re getting down to the firing-squad part of the campaign,” said Larry McCarthy, the strategist making ads for Right to Rise, the super PAC supporting Mr. Bush. “It’s like the end of the Quentin Tarantino movie, where everyone is shooting everyone else.”
It is also a huge bet that television advertisements will remain a crucial, even decisive, political battlefield when signs increasingly suggest otherwise. Candidates and their allies spent nearly $100 million on political advertising last year, including $72 million in Iowa and New Hampshire alone, Kantar Media/CMAG estimated. Much of that was spent by candidates promoting themselves, not attacking their rivals. Yet the biggest spenders reaped only scant improvement in the polls.
Now, with three and a half weeks until the Iowa caucuses, presidential campaigns that spent much of 2015 wooing donors and amassing large amounts of money are spending that money hand over fist, feverishly vying to buy time during every popular show from morning to late-night TV. From Sunday to Thursday alone, according to Kantar, candidates and their allies in both parties spent an estimated $5.9 million on television ads — roughly a third of what was spent in the 2012 Republican race from the beginning of 2011 through the Iowa caucuses. And much more of it now is going toward attempts to take down their rivals.
Turning nasty has grave risks, though, perhaps even more so this cycle, given the more than a dozen candidates in both parties fighting for airtime and attention.
“If you attack somebody else, their support leaves, but it doesn’t necessarily move to you,” said Tad Devine, the longtime Democratic strategist overseeing ad creation for Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont. “It can be a very dangerous maneuver.”
Few campaigns dared to risk that blowback effect in 2015, though there was another reason to shy from mudslinging: The likeliest target of negative ads, the front-runner, was Donald J. Trump, who showed himself more than willing to go after those who provoked him, often in humiliating terms.
Even now, few Republicans have directly attacked Mr. Trump in television ads. Mr. Bush and Mr. Kasich, the most prominent exceptions, have little to lose, given their standing in the polls.
Yet it is Mr. Trump, with his ability to generate perhaps hundreds of millions of dollars of free television time in the form of news coverage, to whom many political ad makers attribute the growing doubts about the power of political advertising.
For one thing, the shock value of the average blunt, starkly graphic television commercial is diminished when the news show it interrupts covers an even more shocking pronouncement.
“Television ads run on TV, and Donald Trump is a TV phenomenon,” said Fred Davis, the Republican strategist making ads for New Day for America, the super PAC supporting Mr. Kasich. “He would say things that were so much more outrageous than what anyone would ever put in a paid ad.”
Mr. Trump’s presence has also generated previously unheard-of ratings for the Republican presidential debates, turning political coverage into must-see television and giving people who might have been loosely familiar with the campaign a real-time feel for it. As a result, commercials that once offered a prime tool for candidates to inform and persuade are proving less useful at either.
“Ads might be playing a lot less dominant role than they had in the past, partly because more people are getting their info from debates,” said Mr. McCarthy, of Right to Rise.
It has not helped that the crowded field of candidates has been saying many of the same things.
In New Hampshire, Right to Rise, New Day for America and America Leads, the super PAC supporting Mr. Christie, combined to spend an estimated $26.4 million in 2015, more than two-thirds of the total spent on television by all Republican candidates and their allies in the state, according to Kantar. Each produced at least one ad focused on terrorism, with fearsome shots of Islamic State terrorists.
“You have to do stuff that others aren’t doing at the same time,” said Mr. Davis, of New Day for America. “The ones that are the most effective are when everyone is doing ISIS and you switch to Trump’s a hippopotamus,” he added, referring to his group’s advertisement likening Mr. Trump to the large mammal.
Read the original story at The New York Times.
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