Electing a President: When the Stakes are this High, Local Broadcast Television Delivers

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At the end of the day – Election Day, that is – numbers matter. They matter very much. There are three numbers that matter for two men in particular, and thus for their beloved country.

They are:

65,899,557, 51.1%, and 332. Total votes, percentage of the popular votes, and the Electoral College delegates.

Those were the numbers that counted, the ones that ultimately determined that President Obama had successfully defended his Oval Office from his opponent, former Governor Mitt Romney.

Another number was just as crucial: 85% of television ad spending during the Presidential campaign went to local broadcast stations.

There are some who would have you believe that there was some strategic move to the “targetability” of cable in these waning moments of the campaign. Well…no.

By applying viewing metrics supplied by Rentrak, MRI, and Scarborough, among others, local broadcast has every bit of the targetability that’s assumed with local cable. Moreover, local broadcast television has something that cable will never be able to deliver – audiences that dwarf those of cable, making it more cost effective.

In reality, the savvy political strategists identified the critical geographies ahead of time and utilized the targeting power of local broadcast television’s programming and news to deliver scalable numbers of voters in the marketplace. And that would have applied to any number of demographic targets in play – Democrats, Republicans, Independents, blue-collar, white-collar, soccer moms, etc. Any group that might be critical in an election is targetable” – and reachable, in mass numbers – by local broadcast television.

No media planner would ever bet the farm on local cable's “targetability”, especially when the goal is to reach as many undecided voters as possible. Buying Lifetime to appeal to women in certain very specific counties is a rationalization. In a cable buy, you just buy the network, so you’re likely to get a leftover spot in some fringe daypart which is unlikely to be seen by many undecided voters. There’s little control over when the spot would run, or in what program - especially with inventory running short. On local broadcast television, the buys are program and daypart specific, so a campaign would know what, when, and where they’re putting their spots, not just “on the network, somewhere.”

The ratings comparison of local broadcast television compared to niche cable is irrefutable. Network-by-network, program-by-program, with very few special exceptions (usually sports), cable still can’t even come close to the number of viewers delivered by broadcast, often in a single spot.

Local broadcast television is the workhorse that delivers targeted voters en masse.

The strategic targeting was in place well before the last weeks of the election cycle. The Obama campaign controlled nearly 90% of their ad placements, capitalizing upon the pricing advantage afforded them by not having a primary battle to wage. They took advantage of the 60-day window of the lowest unit rate, maximized their budget and blanketed the airwaves with more spots for fewer dollars.

Leveraging the most effective media strategy is not something to be trifled with in such a high-stakes game as winning the Presidency of the United States. It takes careful planning, a keen understanding of local markets and a strategic base of local broadcast television to deliver the highest prize in the land.

Obama campaign strategist David Axelrod famously called local broadcast television the “nuclear weapon of political persuasion.” He proved it by putting his money where his mouth is – committing even more dollars to the TV stations during this election than in 2008. As a result, the man delivered two winning Presidential campaigns. Clearly, he’s onto something by putting his trust in local broadcast television.


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