Candidates and their consultants need to up their advertising game in order to be effective in a media market saturated with spending by outside groups.
The recent Supreme Court ruling in the McCutcheon case was expected to tip the balance of spending power back in favor of candidates and national parties. But a new report from the Wesleyan Media Project shows that ad spending by outside groups is dwarfing candidate output.
In 2014 Senate races, for instance, outside groups are responsible for 59 percent of TV ad airings — a 64 percentage increase from 2012. The Project estimated that $43.1 million has been spent on broadcast and national cable ads so far, which is a 45-percent jump over ad airings in Senate races at this point in the last cycle.
In some states, the percentage of airings by outside groups is overwhelming. In North Carolina, outside groups sponsored 90 percent of the ads, and groups have sponsored more than three-in-four ads in Michigan, Louisiana, Kentucky and Alaska, according to the report.
“Up to this point, outside groups are controlling the issue agenda in many Senate races,” stated Travis Ridout, co-director of the Wesleyan Media Project. “I almost feel sorry for the candidates as their voices are being drowned out.”
So what’s that mean for candidates?
“It means they often carry less of the negative message and they need to be more disciplined than ever about not having too many message points, too many spots and too many creative concepts in their ads and communications,” John Rowley, a Democratic media strategist, tells C&E. “You need a visual theme and brand, and stick with it because your ads may be one set of 8-10 ads that are running.”
With the outside groups having such an enormous spending advantage, their ads may start influencing the spots candidates are running.
“This may get so upside down and out of control that instead of outside groups taking their cues from the candidate’s message — that candidates start running the race the outside groups suggest because they have dramatically more resources to communicate and do research messaging,” Rowley says.