They’ve been noted for red umbrellas, a black boot and a special book that displays special effects.
No more do political junkies have to sit around watching television all day just to catch a glimpse of a gubernatorial candidate’s latest commercial: All you have to do is surf on over to their website or Facebook page and click away to your heart’s content.
Still, the candidates know — for the time being, at least — the people they need to reach are those sitting at home watching television, who will react to whatever happens to show up on the screen, not what they might go looking for on a computer.
The availability of quality, professional advertising on television has become so important that campaigns are now making news when they launch an ad. They announce advertising the way movies and television companies announce their productions. You won’t see a candidate show up on a television talk show to discuss his new ad that’s opening — not yet, anyway — but it has become a measure of a campaign’s viability if the candidate can afford to hit the airwaves with ads. The ads themselves are being analyzed for their effectiveness and for fact-checking purposes. Sometimes candidates make hay off another candidate’s ads.
But given recent strides in the role new media plays, the major contenders were asked about the wave of the future of campaign ads. Could the day come when campaigns can save a lot of money by advertising more directly to audiences rather than buy pricey time on local television stations?
U.S. Rep. Zach Wamp says technology has changed campaigns and that ways to reach voters are constantly evolving. Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey says it’s possible that shifts may come. Knoxville Mayor Bill Haslam says conventional television advertising is still the way to reach voters needed to win. Democratic candidate Mike McWherter, who has already wrapped up his primary race, has not gone up with ads on television yet, but he is certainly using the other tools of the Internet to connect with voters.
“I’ve been involved in politics 28 years, and it has evolved in every cycle like you wouldn’t believe,” Wamp said. “I was asked, ‘What about print?’ I said print has changed. Print is electronic. If you’re asking me if we’re communicating very effectively off of television, the answer is absolutely.”
Wamp said to go check out more than 14,000 Facebook friends for his campaign, or over 4,000 people who follow Wamp on Twitter.
“We’re communicating literally with hundreds of thousands of people not on television now,” Wamp said. “Yes, it’s changing rapidly. Everything is wireless.”
Wamp notes how new media communications played a key role in the last presidential campaign, which boosted Barack Obama’s bid for the White House. With each election cycle, technologies are playing a fascinating role. But it’s still questionable as to whether statewide campaigns will ever be able to work without conventional television advertising.
“It’s possible,” Ramsey said. “The Internet will be part of that, but cable television will be part of that, too.
“When you have Fox getting the highest rating show on television news right now and the three major networks at the bottom of the heap, suddenly you can start reversing that. So it will be a combination of the networks just falling off a cliff and scratching their heads wondering why — but I can figure it out — and you’ve got the networks like Fox News of the world coming on. So I would like to think that would be the case, probably the next election cycle.”
Haslam is not so sure. The Haslam campaign has used modern techniques like most campaigns. But any move away from conventional televison advertising sounds remote for now to Haslam. He doesn’t think the landscape will change anytime soon.
“I would like to think that, but the reality is the difference in advertising on broadcast and not is phenomenal, in terms of the scope of awareness,” Haslam said. “So could that day be coming? Maybe.
“Nobody 10 years ago would have thought we’d be where we are. I’ll put it this way. Those of us who play the inside game of politics and look at everything on the Internet, we’re still the distinct minority. Most voters aren’t seeing that.”
Haslam’s campaign recently announced two new television advertisements, one of which addresses civility and shows Haslam alone in a studio setting, saying the governor’s race should stick to the issues.
Haslam said that ad was not in response to anything that had been said recently in the campaign.
“We filmed that weeks ago, so it’s not a response,” Haslam said. “It’s only a response to what I hear from people when I’m out there campaigning. That’s what we want to talk about. This is important stuff. Let’s talk about the important stuff.”
Ramsey has chosen the image of a boot, saying Tennessee should give Washington “the boot” on how the nation’s capital is treating the states. When Haslam’s first ad showed the candidate and supporters walking in the rain with red umbrellas, the umbrellas got a lot of the attention. Wamp has said he doesn’t have an umbrella or a boot but a plan, and his first ad showed him standing in front of an industrial site emphasizing the need to attract jobs to the state. He opens a book that shows a video of Wamp talking to people at a work site. Subsequent Wamp ads are aimed at different regions of the state, and he holds up his 20/20 Vision book, although he doesn’t open the book in the latest ads.
Most people can distinguish between a quality production ad and simple video of a campaign event, but then again some people who don’t study such things might not see the difference, which leads again to the question of whether traditional campaign methods are going the way of the black-and-white TV.
“I am the most savvy candidate in this race from either party on using the new medium of communication through the Internet,” Wamp said. “That’s why I have the most Facebook friends, the most Twitter followers. We’ve been at it a long time.
“It’s nice. You can do a lot of things with a little money. That’s one of the ways this past presidential campaign took on a new dimension, and so now you can do it at the state level and at the local level. And we’re doing it. I’m not going to tell you how we’re doing it, because I don’t want them doing it as well as we do it, but we’re doing it.”
Wamp said the majority of a campaign’s spending is on television. Some of the new ways of campaigning don’t cost as much.
“Yes, you can do it a lot less expensively. This is not about ‘Who has the most money wins,’” he said. “It’s about ‘Who has the most votes wins.’ You can get votes without a lot of money, and actually that’s the governor you need — a person who knows how to do more with less.”
Wamp said most of the money is spent on network affiliated television in a statewide campaign, whether it’s for the U.S. Senate or for governor.