Wednesday, June 30, 2004

Ohh, It's a Vicious Circle!

Paul Fahri reports in The Washington Post on the effect of media expansion on the media strategy of political campaigns. Media strategy in most political campaigns is now governed by the law of diminishing returns.

Where Nixon's advisors dealt with NBC, CBS, and ABC, today's political consultants confront a choice of over 100 television channels through which to broadcast their candidate's message. One strategist reports using a simple rule of thumb for ad buys in the 1990's: run an ad five times to get the message across. In 2004, he's upped that number to twelve.

This phenomenon is not limited to television. Direct mail guru Richard Viguerie states that despite costs increasing fourfold since he's been in the biz, the response rate has remained flat:

People used to go to their mailboxes and get maybe one or two appeals. Now it's five or 10 a day. . . . When I first got started, people complained about getting so much mail. That was a fraction of what they get now.

No kidding. The American people is tuning out the white noise which is political advertising. Maybe if candidates said anything that we found worthwhile, we'd listen. Instead, we get bombarded with canned over-produced music videos that are so far removed from political discourse as to be laughable.

By the end of June, Bush and Kerry will have spent over $140 million on television ads, 80% of which has been in the 18 or so 'swing states' that the campaigns have been targeting.

Wa-a-a-ait a minute. These ads, directed at only a third of the country, as ridiculous and uninformative and as belittling to democracy and the minds of voters as they are, are the main argument used by opponents of spending limits in political campaigns.

Political Consultant: We must communicate our message to the people! Everybody watches television, so we must use television to reach the people!

Common Sense: Even though nobody pays any attention to your crappy ads anymore?

That just means we have to show them more! More!

How democratic of you.

Yes. And television is expensive, so we must raise hundreds of millions of dollars!

To show your music videos.

Ye- No. To communicate our message!

Those things are your message to the American people?

Yes! So we need unlimited amounts of money!

To communicate your 'message'.


Because the television companies charge so much.


Right. Let me see if I got this straight. You (candidates, politicians, political parties, committees, etc.) need to raise huge sums of money in order to pay the television companies huge sums of money to air these ads which the public doesn't really pay any attention to, in large part because they are turned off by the huge amounts of money in politics.


What? Did my head just unscrew from my neck? You know the companies that own the television networks don't actually own the airwaves - the people do?

The people?

Those people you're trying to 'communicate' to?

(puzzled expression) . . . Oh. Right!

You know, if the big media companies lived up to their agreement/responsibility to provide some public interest programming (maybe some candidate debates or position papers or speeches) in return for their making BILLIONS OF DOLLARS off our airwaves, political campaigns wouldn't have to raise and spend so much damn money.


It might even raise the level of political discourse to a level where the American public once more gives a damn about your so-called 'message'.

(in wonder)You mean they'll watch our videos?

Noo, not your videos. Real speeches. Real policy discussions. Real debates. No more thirty-second soundbytes to hide behind.

(cowering)Nooo! It's too bright! Too much opportunity for truth!

Take these shades. It'll be O.K. You'll get used to it.

A more cynical person than myself might suggest that the main reason money plays such a huge role in politics is that it suits politicians and folks with money. Seems to me like the media companies that make money off the public airwaves could pretty easily grant some free airtime to candidates for debates, position statements, discussions, all of which would be more informative than the ads whose volume we turn down, or the direct mail that we crumple and toss in the trash.

Really, when you get down to it, it seems like all those excuses for allowing so much money into our elections are really just a way to allow rich folks to buy themselves a government.

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