By Marcus Stern and Tim McLaughlin, REUTERS
As political experts assess Republican Mitt Romney’s failed U.S. presidential bid, an analysis of how his campaign and President Barack Obama’s winning team used cable TV to target ads at specific groups of voters may offer some valuable tips for the future.
During the final weeks before the Nov. 6 election, with polls showing a tight race, Obama’s campaign exploited cable TV’s diverse lineup to target women on channels such as Food Network and Lifetime and men on networks such as ESPN. The Obama team used the fragmentation of cable TV’s audience to its fullest advantage to target tailored messages to voters in battleground states. Meanwhile, Romney’s campaign relied on a more traditional mass saturation of broadcast TV. The Romney camp was entirely dark on cable TV for two of the campaign’s last seven days. “We don’t know why. This was a week before the election and you’re in the fight for your life,” said Timothy Kay, political director for NCC Media, a cable TV industry consortium. The race had narrowed to key counties in several battleground states, the kind of isolation ideally suited for cable’s geographical targeting and niche-marketing capabilities. Republican Party operatives dismayed by Romney’s defeat continue to debate what went wrong in a campaign awash in cash and run by a candidate with a business background. The former Massachusetts governor’s campaign, like Democrat Obama’s, spent a record-setting amount of cash; in Romney’s case, it was US$580 million in 20 months. Obama’s campaign outspent Romney’s campaign on advertising by as much as US$200 million, according to a Reuters analysis. But when spending by pro-Romney and pro-Obama outside groups is considered, Romney had the edge in overall TV advertising spending. Republican consultants and advertising experts said Romney had enough money to compete with Obama’s final advertising effort. Yet Obama cruised to a commanding Electoral College victory after a final concentration on a small group of battleground states. “In market after market, the Obama campaign ended up putting more ads on target than the Romney campaign did,” said Ken Goldstein, president of Kantar Media’s Campaign Media Analysis Group, a nonpartisan consulting firm that tracked political ads and worked with both campaigns. Stephanie Kincaid, who managed Romney’s advertising campaign, declined to answer questions and referred inquiries to top Romney campaign officials Stuart Stevens and Russell Schriefer, her bosses at The Stevens and Schriefer Group, a political consulting firm. They did not respond to phone calls. Cable television political advertising jumped from US$136 million in 2006 to US$650 million in 2012, although broadcast TV still garnered 80 percent of the campaign advertising spending last year. Even with major broadcast networks and their affiliates, the Obama campaign appeared to out-perform the Romney camp. A campaign spending review shows the Obama camp frequently spent far less than Romney for ads aired by the same stations during the same shows.