Political Advertising

Political advertising is a major business in the United States as demonstrated by the campaign of President Barack Obama, who used the Internet and social media to maximum effect. Obama's strategy team created a campaign that urged the American people to back him in the race to the White House to "make change happen."

The Obama campaign engaged with the youth of America thanks to advertisements across the Internet, appearing on Facebook and YouTube in particular. Along with the central strategy team, a core of volunteers drove this wave of support. Arianna Huffington, editor-in-chief of The Huffington Post said: "Were it not for the Internet, Barack Obama would not be President. Were it not for the Internet, Barack Obama would not have been the nominee."

There are a growing number of more traditional media outlets, which also make it easier to target voters with the right message to encourage them to turn out on Election Day. One key media outlet used for political advertising is television. Across the United States at the end of the 20th century and the beginning of the 21st century political researchers have seen a steady migration from broadcast television to cable programming.

Cable advertising can be broken down into network and spot cable. Network cable refers to buying commercial time directly from a cable network to reach its entire national audience, which is generally not a factor in political campaigns because of its lack of geographic targeting. Spot cable refers to buying commercial time on different cable networks in specific markets or geographic areas. It is easier to target voters through cable advertising as it has the ability to target viewers based upon the geographic and demographic characteristics of highly specific areas.

In order for the effectiveness of advertising budgets to be maximized, political advertisers must target people who actually vote. Spot cable also allows them to do that by allowing political advertisers to easily tailor the mix of commercials, messages and languages to build a candidate's profile across one or many markets.

Researchers have noted that cable has fragmented the audience into smaller and more diverse components, which poses significant challenges for political campaigns. Advertisers are struggling amid the growing costs for television advertisements and the greater difficulty in reaching targeted voters.

"Permission advertising" is an alternative model used by political advertisers. It gives the consumer/voter more control as it acknowledges that people can choose whether or not to pay attention to a given message. One form of permission advertising is through newspapers. This method of advertising provides some clear advantages with voters. It is believed to be more credible than either network or cable television advertising, while also being measurably persuasive.

Critics have argued that television advertising is not as effective as it used to be; while research shows that interactive advertising is more effective. Industry studies show that people spend more time online than with television. The people who make buying choices for major companies tell marketers that online messages persuade them more than what they see on television. Web sites are visited in large numbers by what are viewed as the most important consumers, the well educated, wealthy and influential figures in society.

It appears that in general, political campaigns have been slow to follow the shift towards online advertising. Political communications experts are beginning to grasp that the Internet media can take the right message to the right people in ways that had not been possible before. The Web represents an audience of outstanding quality, with many top news sites having a politically engaged audience. It also reaches its audience at work during the day, as most individuals have access to a computer.

An online political advertisement can serve as a virtual billboard, building name recognition and associating a message with candidates. It can also be an entry point for potential supporters to sign up for campaign newsletters, volunteer to help, donate money and help in other ways. Thanks to the Web, a campaign can deliver visually alluring advertisements designed for a target audience. Advertisers can put a new advertisement up in hours and change the message quickly. A candidate can get potential voters to visit a website and deliver campaign news as it happens.

Selected full-text books and articles on this topic

Campaigning to the New American Electorate: Advertising to Latino Voters
Marisa A. Abrajano.
Stanford University Press, 2010
Separate and Unequal Effects: Information, Political Sophistication and Negative Advertising in American Elections
Stevens, Daniel.
Political Research Quarterly, Vol. 58, No. 3, September 2005
Meet the (Ideal) Candidate: How Viewers Interpret Political Advertising during the "Invisible Primary"
Parmelee, John H.
Communication Studies, Vol. 59, No. 1, January-March 2008
Examining the Possible Corrosive Impact of Negative Advertising on Citizens' Attitudes toward Politics
Jackson, Robert A.; Mondak, Jeffery J.; Huckfeldt, Robert.
Political Research Quarterly, Vol. 62, No. 1, March 2009
Explaining Perceptions of Advertising Tone
Ridout, Travis N.; Fowler, Erika Franklin.
Political Research Quarterly, Vol. 65, No. 1, March 2012
Free Advertising: How the Media Amplify Campaign Messages
Ridout, Travis N.; Smith, Glen R.
Political Research Quarterly, Vol. 61, No. 4, December 2008
A Functional Analysis of Presidential Direct Mail Advertising
Benoit, William L.; Stein, Kevin A.
Communication Studies, Vol. 56, No. 3, September 2005
Television and Political Advertising: Psychological Processes
Frank Biocca.
Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, vol.1, 1991
Television and Political Advertising
Frank Biocca.
Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, vol.2, 1991
Packaging the Presidency: A History and Criticism of Presidential Campaign Advertising
Kathleen Hall Jamieson.
Oxford University Press, 1996 (3rd edition)
Seeing Spots: A Functional Analysis of Presidential Television Advertisements, 1952-1996
William L. Benoit.
Praeger Publishers, 1999
Videostyle in Presidential Campaigns: Style and Content of Televised Political Advertising
Lynda Lee Kaid; Anne Johnston.
Praeger Publishers, 2001
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