Here’s a question that our industry should think hard about in the New Year: When is it appropriate for campaigns or groups to buy broadcast television?
Here’s the simple answer: it’s appropriate when large audience segments can potentially vote for the candidate advertising. For instance, candidates in markets with few political districts should buy broadcast. Candidates in larger markets running for citywide or statewide offices encompassing several districts should do likewise.
But in media markets, or Designated Market Areas (DMAs) in industry jargon, with multiple districts like New York City, which contains 34 congressional districts, or LA, which has 27, campaigns shouldn’t spend their money on broadcast. It’s too much waste for congressional and down-ballot candidates to live with.
Consider this: Fewer than 800,000 live in any CD nationwide and more than 20 million across four states reside in the New York DMA. No individual New York CD population comprises more than 3.5 percent of the DMA.
One percent or an even smaller percentage of the market live in any NY or NJ state legislative district. Yet some candidates for these offices choose to squander money on buys with 99 percent waste.
Every year I watch broadcast stations during election season and cringe when congressional and down-ballot candidate spots air. I live in NY-11, which comprises Staten Island and a small strip of Brooklyn. Each time I view a commercial for a candidate running for a Long Island, New Jersey or Upstate NY office, I yell at my TV, “I shouldn’t be seeing this commercial: I can’t vote for you.”
This isn’t 1970 when broadcast was the rage. Now, candidates have better-targeted options such as local cable, digital, mobile, and social video. Clients shouldn’t waste money on the geographically irrelevant.
Spot cable delivers more localized audiences with much less waste than broadcast. Digital and mobile can geo-target and even serve video ads to individual voters. Despite this, political media buying firms over the last few cycles have increased the money they allocate to this mid-2oth century medium in expensive markets like New York.
My firm did not buy my Congressman Max Rose’s media. Yet friends, family, and acquaintances from Long Island, Jersey, and Westchester are familiar with him because of the ubiquitous TV advertising from both him and his opponent.
Running on broadcast generated the wrong kind of awareness. None of these people are eligible to vote in CD-11 and Rose, who scored an upset win over a Republican incumbent in 2018, wasn’t reelected in November.
Media buying inefficiency was obviously not the only factor in his defeat. His opponent also littered the airways with spots viewable by those geographically ineligible to vote. Still, redirecting resources to reach actual potential constituents instead of pissing away cash on audiences 96 percent out of district could have helped.
It costs an estimated 30-50 times more to reach the same number of in-district voters with broadcast ads than with spot cable or digital video.
Consultants employ this tactic while more efficient options exist. Fundraising is the only motive that has superficial legitimacy but ultimately results in negative return on investment.
The funds raised from out-of-town donations would have to exceed the cost of buying stratospheric airtime. These ads are costly because of waste. It would take a plethora of small contributions and occasional maximum donations to break even. Even if it yielded positive results, the gains wouldn’t be applied to more efficient GOTV or persuasion methods, but to more broadcast.
This reminds me of a vintage 1980s anti-cocaine commercial where the actor repeats, with ever increasing speed, a mantra of: “I do coke so I can work longer, so I can make more money, so I can buy more coke, so I can work longer.” You get the idea.
I’ve ranted about not buying broadcast TV, but let’s be honest, that’s probably not going to stop too many media consultants from going ahead with placements. So for a campaign or group weighing their options, what is the threshold for your consultant to push you into a broadcast buy? The critical mass is subjective. But any district comprising less than 20 percent of total eyeballs should avoid the medium.
Roy Moskowitz is CEO of Staten Island-based Reciprocal Results, a media service company and Democratic Political Consultancy. He hasn’t thrown anything at the TV during political commercials but has been known to hurl things while watching the Yankees, Giants or Syracuse Basketball.