Total election spending in the United States this year will reach an astronomical $9.8 billion for the 13,000 or so national, congressional and municipal races across the country, according to the research firm Borrell Associates. An estimated 48 percent of that money will be spent by “super PACs,” and the greatest beneficiary of this largesse will be cable-TV outlets, which could make out nicely with over $900 million in sales—more than double what they took in four years ago.
But how effective are all those ad buys? In City & State’s new feature Ad Watch we look at some of the commercials vying to win over New York voters and ask experts in the field if the spots are hitting their mark or flying off target.
CANDIDATE: Bob Turner
PRODUCED BY: Patrick Media (Phoenix, AZ)
LENGTH: 30 seconds
DESCRIPTION: The first ad of Rep. Bob Turner’s campaign for U.S. Senate reintroduces voters to Turner, and portrays him as a “conservative Republican,” in contrast to Kirsten Gillibrand, who is derided in the spot as “the country’s most liberal Senator.”
PROS: The ad reminds voters of the national magnitude of Turner’s special-election victory last year when he took Anthony Weiner’s former seat, and plays up the congressman’s Everyman image. It also completely ignores Turner’s primary opponents, tacitly asserting his campaign’s narrative that he is the only Republican who can beat Gillibrand.
CONS: Though the unusually early June 26 primary date appears with a sound effect and remains on screen for the last half of the ad, the fact that it is never said aloud and appears in relatively small type seems a mistake, given how critical getting voters to the polls will be in this all-but-certain low-turnout contest. Moreover, one of the first images is a campaign poster from Turner’s special-election race last year with the date September 13 in large letters, creating possible confusion for the viewer. Lastly, in typical campaign-ad fashion, the spot uses as bad a picture of Gillibrand as possible—but at the same time also uses an unflattering image of Turner, 20 seconds into the ad, where he appears hunched over.
EXPERT OPINION: “As a ‘red-meat-for-the-GOP-faithful’ spot, this ad does a decent job of introducing Turner as a true believer conservative who can win a tough race, while hitting all the standard anti-Democrat buzzwords. So for a GOP primary against two relatively unknown opponents, it works. Turner’s problem, of course, is that this messaging would fail badly in the general election against a well-known and well-liked incumbent like Senator Gillibrand, so its effectiveness in the primary environment actually works against him in November, when he’s going to have to try to appear more centrist to try to win votes.”
—Doug Forand, founding partner, Red Horse Strategies
PRODUCED BY: InnovationPAC, in-house
LENGTH: 46 seconds
DESCRIPTION: This ad, the first in a series of Web spots attacking Rep. Nydia Velázquez, was produced by InnovationPAC, a D.C.-based, self-described “political action committee for SBIR [small business innovation research] innovators.” In the animated ad, a blue-collar donkey comes home to find Velázquez in bed, with a Wall Street bull throwing money at her.
PROS: The ad uses humor, sexual innuendo and a clichéd adultery scenario to illustrate vividly the PAC’s accusation that Velázquez is in bed with Wall Street donors. It also appears to come from the perspective of disillusioned Democrats by urging the viewer not to “let corrupt politicians make an ass of us again.”
CONS: This deliberately tawdry ad runs the risk of backfiring by appalling viewers rather than making them laugh. In addition, both the donkey and the Velázquez impersonator’s faux-Hispanic accents open the ad to accusations of ethnic stereotyping. This is likely too inflammatory an ad to ever be run by a named opponent, and demonstrates how more controversial lines of attack are available to PACs.
EXPERT OPINION: “This is an effective and entertaining ad. It drives home a simple message concisely. Its liability is its 46-second length—a careless tip-off that this will never reach a television screen.”
—Bill O’Reilly, partner, NLO Strategies
“CAUGHT ON TAPE”
CANDIDATE: Tim Bishop
PRODUCED BY: Murphy Vogel Askew Reilly (Alexandria, VA)
LENGTH: 54 seconds
DESCRIPTION: Though the general election is in November, Democratic Rep. Tim Bishop and Randy Altschuler, the Republican he narrowly beat in 2010, are already trading attack ads. In this spot, Bishop alleges that Altschuler created a false office in Port Jefferson Station on Long Island to make it look like Altschuler’s company CloudBlue was creating jobs in the district.
PROS: This slickly produced, dramatically scored and carefully sound-designed ad’s best feature is how it intermingles video clips, photos and audio to substantiate its accusations in a very methodical and easy-to-follow fashion.
CONS: A lot of text moving across the screen in different directions.
EXPERT OPINION: “Because this is a Web ad, it is not constrained by television’s 30-second format. The second half of the spot utilizes its strongest elements and could effectively form the crux of television advertising that would destroy Altschuler with voters. If the allegations in this ad are true, they could be deadly to Altschuler. They eviscerate his credibility because they expose his core narrative as fiction and should be presented to voters in NY-1 as soon as possible. The tracker who shot the video of Altschuler and the opposition researcher who called his company deserve credit for a job well done.”
—Evan Stavisky, partner, the Parkside Group
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Tags: Anthony Weiner, Bill O'Reilly, Bob Turner, CloudBlue, Democrat, Doug Forand, Evan Stavisky, InnovationPAC, Kirsten Gillibrand, Long Island, Morgan Pehme, NLO Strategies, Nydia Velazquez, Patrick Media, Port Jefferson Station, Randy Altschuler, Red Horse Strategies, Republican, Senate, The Parkside Group, Tim Bishop, Wall Street
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