Boom Times under Way for Advocacy Advertising

Article excerpt

WASHINGTON _ Turn on Your TV: Harry and Louise, the insurance industry's favorite couple, are fretting over "spending caps" in President Clinton's health care plan.

Open your newspapers and magazines: A Wall Street firm has bought a full page to declare "NAFTA means more jobs, more exports and higher living standards." On another page, an environmental group counters: "If Flipper could vote, NAFTA wouldn't stand a chance."

These are boom times for advocacy advertising.

"This year, to date, has been the greatest for advocacy and issue oriented advertising in CNN's history," said Joe Uva, advertising manager for the Cable News Network.

"The use of media in general has increased" as assorted interest groups seek to influence Congress, said Steve Colford of Advertising Age, an ad industry newspaper.

By the time the House votes next week on the North American Free Trade Agreement, Colford said, pro- and anti-NAFTA groups will have spent more than $10 million to get out their messages.

Meanwhile, the health insurance industry is spending $4 million this year on its ad campaign that includes the "Harry and Louise" 30-second spots that have so upset first lady Hillary Rodham Clinton. And the issue is just beginning to heat up.

"We haven't seen the heavy advertising on health care yet," said Marc Rosenberg, The Washington Post's manager of public policy advertising.

A lot of organizations are watching to see how health reform legislation shapes up before buying space and time, agreed Linda Cheesman, advertising manager of The National Journal. "I had one client who said their organization is `keeping its powder dry.' Quite a few advertisers are in a position of `wait and see'," she said.

Advocacy advertising is clearly coming of age. Groups on all sides of complex public policy issues are increasingly selling their causes in the same kind of media campaigns that advertisers have long used to sell soap powder.

Indeed, The Washington Post has reorganized its advertising department to capitalize on the trend. Rosenberg, a veteran of Capitol Hill and trade associations, was hired to head a newly separate office for public policy advertising.

Although advocacy advertising is certainly not new to the pages of the Post, Rosenberg said, "a lot of new groups are coming in now for NAFTA and health care. Two years ago, some of these groups didn't have the slightest thought that they'd be advertising with us."

Most national advocacy advertising is aimed either "inside the Beltway" at Congress and the White House or at a much broader audience outside of Washington. Those ads also seek to influence the nation's policy makers, but indirectly, by generating "grassroots" concern that prompts folks in the heartland to phone or fax their opinions to Washington.

Increasingly, advocacy ads are being run in local newspapers and TV and radio stations in states or districts of key lawmakers whose vote are needed on a particular issue.

More advocacy groups may be advertising because traditional political selling methods have fallen into disfavor. …