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TV ads as far as the eye can see

Monday, Oct 31, 2016

* My weekly syndicated newspaper column

During any given campaign season, one or maybe two state legislative campaigns wind up running ads on Chicago broadcast television stations. But in the age of Gov. Bruce Rauner’s gigantic campaign contributions, it may be easier to count the number of Chicago-area candidates who aren’t running any city broadcast ads.

State Rep. Michael McAuliffe (R-Chicago) started the trend by airing Chicago broadcast TV ads at the beginning of August—an act completely without precedent in the General Assembly. Chicago broadcast ads are so expensive that campaigns usually don’t start airing them until mid to late October.

The ads are also incredibly inefficient. The Chicago media market has about 7.9 million people aged 12 or over, as measured by the ratings companies.

Four years ago, during the last presidential cycle, a total of 38,748 votes were cast in McAuliffe’s race. So, when McAuliffe and other House candidates air these ads, they’re aiming them at only about half a percentage point of the entire media market. It’s actually much lower than that because most people have already made up their minds by now. So, it’s like using a hydrogen bomb to kill a tiny gnat.

Just last week, the cash-rich Republicans went up on Chicago broadcast TV in five legislative races: Rod Drobinski vs. Rep. Sam Yingling (D-Grayslake), who also made a broadcast buy late last week; Rep. Chris Winger (R-Wood Dale) vs. Cynthia Borbas, who has been up on Chicago broadcast for a little while with an ad blasting Winger for her social conservatism; Rep. David Olsen (R-Downers Grove), who is fending off a late cable TV buy from Greg Hose; Steve Reick, who’s up against John Bartman, who just launched cable ads in retiring McHenry County Democratic Rep. Jack Franks’ district; and Michelle Smith vs. Sen. Jennifer Bertino-Tarrant (D-Shorewood), who is also on Chicago broadcast.

Keep in mind, those are just the latest to air the ads. Plenty of others were already on Chicago broadcast.

Both candidates in the Rep. Kate Cloonen (D-Kankakee) race have been airing broadcast TV, as have both in Democratic Rep. Andy Skoog’s LaSalle County-area race and both in Democratic Sen. Tom Cullerton’s DuPage County contest, as well as Rep. McAuliffe’s opponent Merry Marwig, among others.

And it’s not just the two parties airing the spots. Dan Proft says his Liberty Principles PAC is currently airing Chicago broadcast ads on behalf of six Republicans.

And it’s not just happening in Chicago. St. Louis broadcast TV has also been a relative rarity for legislative campaign ads. Heck, many statewide candidates forgo advertising in St. Louis because of its high cost-to-benefit ratio.

Rep. Dwight Kay (R-Glen Carbon) has been running ads on St. Louis TV for several weeks, and the Democrats just started airing ads there for Rep. Dan Beiser (D-Alton) to match his Republican opponent Mike Babcock’s buy. The Democrats also started running St. Louis ads for Mike Mathis against Rep. Avery Bourne (R-Raymond).

“It’s crazy,” said one Metro East pal about the flood of St. Louis ads. “I want to throw something at the TV.”

Head up the Mississippi River and you’ll see broadcast TV ads in the Quad Cities for and against Rep. Mike Smiddy (D-Hillsdale). Like in St. Louis, most people who watch Quad Cities television stations don’t live in Illinois.

Then head as far south in Illinois as you can go and Rep. John Bradley (D-Marion) is reportedly pushing a completely unheard of 3,900 gross ratings points on TV stations in and near his district. Generally, if you want half your targeted audience to see an ad three times, you’ll “push” 150 ratings points. Do the math. Bradley must be advertising 24 hours a day on every program.

The Republicans, by the way, estimated last week that they’ve pushed 5,000 points statewide on their anti-House Speaker Michael Madigan message.

But are any of these ads working this late in the game?

Last week, a friend of mine who doesn’t watch much broadcast television said he was watching “Chicago’s Very Own” WGN and texted me the ads as they popped up on his TV: “Anti-Yingling, pro-Duckworth, anti-Mendoza, anti-Skoog, anti-Yingling (again), anti-Cloonen. All back-to-back in a single commercial break.”

A few minutes later, he texted: “Hey back to commercials! Anti-Bartman, anti-Cullerton. Anti-Trump/Rauner (new from LIFT). What is this! An ad for Target. Like, a real ad for buying cheap [stuff]. Refreshing.”

“Seriously,” he texted, “it was just one big jumble. Nothing could break through this. And if you were getting 20 pieces of mail? Shoot me now.”

* Related…

* Republicans far outspend Dems in Illinois

- Posted by Rich Miller        

29 Comments
  1. - Anon - Monday, Oct 31, 16 @ 9:18 am:

    Last week I started getting mail from the Republican Party for a state house race several districts away. For a moment I felt really bad because I had no idea the person was running for an office in my area and the first piece of information I got about their campaign was a negative mailer with photoshopped Madigan, and then I realized their error.

    So, even they’re having a tough time managing their own program.

    Whoever is responsible for their mailers is just raking in the money to deliver a terrible product. I’m sure they don’t feel bad about it, but I hope come November 9th they have a bit of an alter call.


  2. - Ducky LaMoore - Monday, Oct 31, 16 @ 9:27 am:

    I was listening to 670 the score and heard an anti-Smiddy ad. Talk about a waste of money.


  3. - Amalia - Monday, Oct 31, 16 @ 9:39 am:

    can’t tell which legislative district I live in by the electronic media. anyone put up ads during the Cubs game? not a watcher/listener of that team, so…


  4. - cover - Monday, Oct 31, 16 @ 9:42 am:

    I unfortunately was unable to watch the game last night, the only TV I watched all day was a late recap on NHL Network - no campaign commercials! Thanks, hockey!


  5. - Oswego Willy - Monday, Oct 31, 16 @ 9:42 am:

    There “seems” to be such an over-saturation of anti-Madigan ads tying just about anyone and everyone TO Madigan, the fear that could happen is “they’re all with Madigan, Hillary is going to win Illinois, Kirk is a mess, why vote?”

    The over-saturation could boomerang to suppressing Republicans? Maybe?

    The Biss Ads, a new one during the World Series, does a “simple task; Rauner is Trump, Trump is Rauner.

    Tying actual Republicans, but “umbrella-ing” all the ILGOP with Rauner and Trump, simply, seems smarter right now then the 2,595 ads with everyone and Madigan, and “can I vote for them, not for them, who are they anyway?”

    From above, Rich…

    ===The ads are also incredibly inefficient. The Chicago media market has about 7.9 million people aged 12 or over, as measured by the ratings companies.===

    Great column, Rich. Thanks for your hard work, as always.


  6. - wordslinger - Monday, Oct 31, 16 @ 9:48 am:

    I don’t understand the broadcast buys. You can really target with cable and get so many more spots for your money.


  7. - Last Bull Moose - Monday, Oct 31, 16 @ 9:48 am:

    Had this saturation marketing been advancing a positive agenda, it would have had value. Now the winners have no mandate to act.

    I feel I am watching an election among Orcs, not Men.


  8. - TV Ads - Monday, Oct 31, 16 @ 9:49 am:

    Oswego Willy - with the article being about money spent and tv ads, do you feel they have put Munger in the lead? Almost a month ago you seemed confident they would help her pass Mendozas early lead. Just curious if you still feel that way or if over the last few weeks Munger made up less ground than you expected? Thanks


  9. - The Captain - Monday, Oct 31, 16 @ 9:49 am:

    I don’t recall any cycle where so many of these ads were on broadcast and I think this has taught us two things that will be remembered for the future:

    1) I can’t ever recall seeing so many ads for candidates that are not on my ballot. This overkill of ads has to sow some confusion for voters. I can’t recall most of the specific accusations in all these negative ads, just have more of a general overall opinion. I wonder if this will create less ticket splitting than usual as voters end up buying the message in aggregate more so than candidate by candidate, there are so many candidates on TV now you just can’t keep up.

    2) seeing the Liberty Principles ads back to back, or at least in near succession, it really stands out that they used the same actress in each ad for different races. It lessens the impact. It devalues her credibility as a concerned mom who has a personal stake in the outcome when you see her shilling in every race. The first time I saw her in an ad I thought she was an effective advocate but the more I see her the more that diminishes. You can get away with that when you’re buying geographically targeted cable, but when you go full blitz on broadcast it stands out.


  10. - Rich Miller - Monday, Oct 31, 16 @ 9:50 am:

    ===You can really target with cable and get so many more spots for your money===

    Nothing moves numbers like broadcast TV. And the price of cable TV is closing in on broadcast.


  11. - Oswego Willy - Monday, Oct 31, 16 @ 10:03 am:

    - TV Ads -

    ==Just curious if you still feel that way or if over the last few weeks Munger made up less ground than you expected?===

    Since we both (I dunno really about you, but I definitely know for a fact I …definitely don’t) have polls, publicly seen or discussed polls, and with Munger down 8 with 19% undecided, the silence in both camps right now makes me want to think had both sprinted away beyond what a POTUS universe could define, there might be a leak or three.

    This might, now, mirror Frerichs-Cross in statewide closeness, and if that is my thought on this, then I have to then base that that on a perceived closing of that 8 point gap, which I thought would happen with Munger swamping Mendoza in Ads.

    If Munger loses, if she does, given all these parameters now, the weeks and weeks and weeks of holding back dollars instead of building up a stronger name ID could be seen as a mitigating factor.

    Mendoza, even in that poll, was underperforming both Duckworth and Clinton. That has been a challenge, maybe, in all this too?

    It may be a Frerichs-Cross finish.


  12. - The Captain - Monday, Oct 31, 16 @ 10:03 am:

    == Nothing moves numbers like broadcast TV. And the price of cable TV is closing in on broadcast. ==

    I recently had an in-depth conversation with the buyer at a local political media firm and he made the exact same point, which shocked me. He said that so long as you had the money to be on broadcast the math worked out in favor of it, even for how inefficient it is.


  13. - Roman - Monday, Oct 31, 16 @ 10:16 am:

    The Republicans are overplaying their Blame Madigan hand.

    Friday night during one commercial break I saw four GOP ads in a row (three legislative and one for Munger) that all attacked their opponents by tying them to Madigan. With that level of anti-Madigan saturation, the actual targeted Dem candidates kinda get lost in the trees.

    A whole bunch of voters are gonna be confused when they show up on election day and no one named Madigan is on their ballot.


  14. - Roadypig - Monday, Oct 31, 16 @ 10:17 am:

    All I can say is I am thankful for the invention of the DVR. We still we their faces in flashes (commercial producers learned long ago that you need a line enough freeze frame shit to be a shred that the jeer will see something while fast forwarding), but we fast forward at triple time and at least we don’t have to hear their b.s.


  15. - walker - Monday, Oct 31, 16 @ 10:20 am:

    Two halves to every antiDem/antiMadigan ad. The coverage and leverage of broadcast might be aimed at the latter half, for the longer term.


  16. - Team Sleep - Monday, Oct 31, 16 @ 10:27 am:

    Roman - maybe you are correct. But by the same token Governor Rauner is not on the ballot, either, and will not be for 2 more years.


  17. - Hamlet's Ghost - Monday, Oct 31, 16 @ 10:35 am:

    == Seeing the Liberty Principles ads back to back, or at least in near succession, it really stands out that they used the same actress in each ad for different races. ==

    Go to the Liberty Principles You Tube page. It’s like watching a sci-fi movie about cloning.

    https://www.youtube.com/user/LibertyPrinciplesPAC/videos?sort=dd&view=0&shelf_id=0


  18. - @MisterJayEm - Monday, Oct 31, 16 @ 10:53 am:

    Years ago, a British science fiction writer told me that all electronic political advertising is designed with the intent of lowering the opposition’s Election Day turn-out, i.e. by making those leaning towards the other guy understand that the crumb ain’t worth casting a ballot for. (By contrast, physical media (mailers, etc.) and direct voter contact (phones & doors) are intended to motivate the supporters of our hero.)

    While it’s neither a complete nor universal explanation, it’s a useful heuristic for explaining the vast majority of television and radio political advertising. (And why such ads don’t appeal to CapFax commenters who are usually more than ‘leaners’ in most races.)

    – MrJM


  19. - Roman - Monday, Oct 31, 16 @ 10:55 am:

    Team Sleep - True. But it seems that for every anti-Rauner ad that appears, there are four or five anti-Madigan pieces. That’s where I believe the saturation effect could drown out the attack on the actual Dem candidate targeted in the ad. So many candidates are being tied to Madigan it’s getting hard to make the connection. Anti-Madigan voters might be losing track of which candidates they are supposed to vote against. At this point, all that money might be better spent just hitting the Dem candidate straight on.


  20. - Chucktownian - Monday, Oct 31, 16 @ 10:56 am:

    All this money…and they’re gonna lose.


  21. - Belle - Monday, Oct 31, 16 @ 11:04 am:

    The 1st time I saw an ad for John Bartman, I thought ‘wow—that guy? They have the name wrong.’


  22. - Roadypig - Monday, Oct 31, 16 @ 12:23 pm:

    Rich can you tell me why my posts aren’t showing up? I have not used foul language or veered off into prohibited areas, But the last 3-4 times I have tried to post they never show up?


  23. - Rich Miller - Monday, Oct 31, 16 @ 12:25 pm:

    ===tell me why my posts aren’t showing up?===

    They’ve been going to spam. Not sure why.


  24. - Roadypig - Monday, Oct 31, 16 @ 12:29 pm:

    That’s odd-
    The one I tried posting here was just about using my DVR to avoid watching all the ads. I guess I will just have read
    for my education, but keep my thoughts to myself 🙁


  25. - Anonymous - Monday, Oct 31, 16 @ 12:33 pm:

    I just noticed why- the word should have been SHOT not sh*t. Please feel free to delete my autocorrect mistake


  26. - Roadypig - Monday, Oct 31, 16 @ 12:39 pm:

    Anon at 12:33 was me Rich


  27. - 47th Ward - Monday, Oct 31, 16 @ 1:10 pm:

    I think this John Gregg guy is going to give Rauner a real run for his money. His ads are everywhere.


  28. - ABC - Monday, Oct 31, 16 @ 2:15 pm:

    I live in Chicago and am being bombarded by these ads against numerous candidates. They all seem to blend together for me, for the most part. One thing I did notice, though, is that for almost all of them, the voice-over repeats the Democratic candidates’ full names - first and last - several times throughout the ad. For example, Kate Cloonen supported Mike Madigan on such and such an issue, Kate Cloonen is bad for Illinois, Kate Cloonen (insert accusation here), etc. But with the John Bartman ad, they only say his first name once, and after that, it’s just “Bartman” did this and “Bartman” did that.

    I suppose if you’re going to paint the Democratic candidate as the bogeyman, calling him simply “Bartman” during the World Series could do the trick. lol


  29. - Joe Bidenopolous - Monday, Oct 31, 16 @ 4:01 pm:

    And radio ads for as long as the ears can hear.

    Here’s a good one, Rich - just heard. Liberty Principles anti-Madigan, anti-Smiddy ad on WBBM. Who knew there were so many BBM listeners in the quads?


Sorry, comments for this post are now closed.


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