Latest Column: In a Neverending Campaign, Election’s End Doesn’t Stop Ads

Collage_tedcol021It’s been only about a month since the noise of the election ended, but
the campaigns have left an echo. And for TV stations, it sounds like
ka-ching!

Political ads, which saturated the swing states in
unprecedented fashion, have returned to the airwaves over the past week.
They are not nearly as frequent, not nearly as negative (in fact,
they’re largely positive) and tied to issues rather than candidates —
and one has even remembered to feature a Hollywood celeb.

Morgan
Freeman, who in October was enlisted by the Obama campaign to narrate an
uplifting spot for the president’s re-election, this past week could be
heard voicing a different uplifting spot for the Human Rights Campaign,
pointing out history-making LGBT victories at the ballot box. “The wind
is at our back, but our journey has just begun,” Freeman says in the
spot, which in its imagery evokes the famous “Morning in America” ads
for Ronald Reagan’s re-election campaign in 1984.

Also advertising
have been a coalition of labor groups, including the American
Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, the National
Education Assn. and the Service Employees Intl. Union, which ran a
series of radio and TV ads calling for the protection of funding for
Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid, as well as education. Tied to
ongoing talks in Washington to avoid the so-called “fiscal cliff,” the
ads were not just unusual for their timing, but for where they ran:
during coverage of the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade — and on radio
and TV in Colorado, Missouri, Virginia, Pennsylvania and Alaska,
mentioning lawmakers by name, and calling for them to stand firm on
funding.

Given the lack of any election on the horizon, it’s a bit
unconventional for ads to pop up now, coming in what can best be
described as the off-off-season for partisan buys, but some see the
spots as not necessarily all that unexpected.

“We are in the era
of the permanent campaign,” says Elizabeth Wilner, vice president for
strategic initiatives at the Campaign Media Analysis Group, the Kantar
Media unit that tracks election spending.

Although there may be
concerns that the public is satiated on any and all things politics, and
therefore prone to tune out, particularly after a relentlessly negative
campaign season, Wilner notes that many markets, like New York and
California, didn’t see the same onslaught of negativity as did the swing
states. She also notes that visually, the new ads look and sound
different from the kind of ads people were subjected to for the past
seven or eight months.

HRC’s spot, called “Dawn of a New Day for
Marriage Equality,” is timed not just to the election victories but to
the attention being paid to the Supreme Court’s pending decision on
whether to take a case challenging the constitutionality of California’s
Proposition 8, as well as a series of challenges to the Defense of
Marriage Act. A decision from the court on which cases it will take or
reject could come by Dec. 3. The HRC spot ran for a week, including
placement in major cities during the Sunday morning talkshows.

Wilner
says that of importance to an org like HRC is to bring attention to its
successes, particularly since Obama’s reelection overshadowed so many
other races on Election Day. “They want to strengthen their status as a
major political player in Washington, which they have been, but there’s
the adage that you are only as good as your most recent victory,” she
says. “You have to blow your own horn; no one else is going to do it for
you.”

HRC, along with other LGBT groups, also are anxious to lay
the groundwork for support in statehouses. Five state legislatures,
including Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Minnesota and Rhode Island, may be
considering same-sex marriage legislation when lawmakers return in
January.

Richard Socarides, a New York attorney and Democratic
political strategist, noted that before the New York legislature
approved marriage equality in 2011, cable and Internet spots featured
prominent figures explaining why the issue was important to them.

“They
were extremely effective in creating momentum for the message,” says
Socarides, who was adviser in the Clinton White House on gay and lesbian
issues. “The Morgan Freeman ad takes that to the next level. I think it
is a very smart idea. At just the right moment, it can be very
helpful.”

Both Freeman’s HRC ad, and the labor-backed spots,
called “Jobs Not Cuts,” are upbeat in tone, the latter containing images
of working men and women smiling with their families even as the
narrator urges continued funding for various programs. That’s something
of a contrast to what’s going on in Washington, where a game of
brinkmanship is being played out between the White House and Republicans
in Congress on who will blink first to offer a compromise in order to
avoid taking the nation over the so-called fiscal cliff.

“No rest
for the weary,” quips AFSCME’s Chris Fleming, who says there is always a
concern of viewer fatigue over political ads, but maintains that
inasmuch as the labor-backed spots aren’t negative, they may find
resonance.

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