As I was standing in line for an hour-and-a-half at the Tuckahoe Elementary School voting station yesterday, I had the good fortune to strike up a conversation with the gentlemen next in line: John Adams, the recently retired chairman of the Martin Agency. Naturally, the conversation turned to the presidential election.
Adams opined that the vast majority of the money spent on television advertising this election season was wasted. There is little substantive that can be said in 30-second slots, and voters have learned to tune them out, he said. Candidates continue to invest in TV ads because political consultants make tons of money placing them.
His observations yesterday were prescient. Hillary Clinton outspent Donald Trump on political ads, mostly negative, by a massive margin, and to the astonishment of the television pundits she lost. Trump, by contrast, focused on generating “earned media” (news) through his tweets.
Adams is not a big fan of Twitter and other social media, which is thinks is superficial. He prefers “long-form” formats that allow the thoughtful discussion of policy issues, although he admits that thought pieces may not be to everyone’s taste.
Despite its drawbacks, TV ads can reach a large audience quickly. One suggestion from the man who presided over the Martin Agency’s creation of the Geico gecko and cave man ads: Television can be used to present positive messages that are difficult to peddle to a cynical press corps. But there is less utility in running attack ads. Reporters love nothing better than a cat fight, so it’s usually easy to inject negative spin about an opponent in the media. Whatever the ultimate solution, he says, the millions of ad dollars squandered in 2016 could have been spent to better effect.
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