“Controversial” Campaign Ads- Free Bang For The Buck

July 30, 2008

Lately I’ve gotten the impression -and maybe this is just me- that the McCain camp’s ads are getting a lot more attention than Obama’s lately.  There’s more and more talk that McCain is taking the “low road“, but I’m beginning to wonder if this should really be considered the smart road.  After all, as NewsBusters noticed, the latest McCain ad appeared to get a ton of air time on the blogs and CBS, NBC, ABC, etc. in the last 24 hrs., because someone decided that the ads themselves, along the accompanying reaction, was deemed newsworthy.  As I read, I couldn’t help but think that McCain’s team had gotten a lot more exposure for their spots with all that than it actually paid for through regular time slots. 

As it turns out, I’m not the only one to come to this conclusion, as memeorandum also has this up from the NYT: With Commercial, McCain Gets Much More Than His Money’s Worth

WASHINGTON — The number of times Senator John McCain’s new advertisement attacking Senator Barack Obama for canceling a visit with wounded troops in Germany last week has been shown fully or partly on local, national and cable newscasts: well into the hundreds.

The number of times that spot actually, truly ran as a paid commercial: roughly a dozen.

One has to wonder -or possibly even assume- that the media may be the unwitting participant in an a clever strategy.  A plan that centers around churning out campaign ads that create a buzz not as a mistake made by a marketing team that is out of touch with what might cross lines, but as a critical part of the design.  With such a concept, I suppose the balancing act involves crafting the ads in such a way that they don’t turn too many people off, while simultaneously creating the appropriate stir that results in all the free air time.  Another possible danger would be that, once it gets to a certain point, there will be considerable debate between the camps and pundits alike over whether the whole fracas can be taken up with the FCC.   After all, the networks were so worried about the “equal time” provisions that NBC actually considered make-up time for other GOP candidates to compensate for Fred Thompson’s appearance in Law and Order reruns.  That dynamic would expose the transparency of the tactic to a wider audience than a single NYT post (and certainly this blog), and could work against McCain…assuming the Katie Couric’s out there can refrain from replaying the ads in question hundreds of times in the process.

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  1. I don’t know Chen. Mike Durant, Black Hawk Down hero, disagrees with you about McCain receiving preferential treatment. Does seem to me as Hannity points out we’ve had one contrived picture post after another from Obama.

    Granted, Mike is now affiliated with the McCain campaign but he makes some very legitimate points in this interview. Doesn’t sound to me like the military is much on board with your boy.

    Slide down for your friend Sean Hannity’s discussion (I know how you love this stuff).


  2. I think ultimately the only ones who get preferential treatment from the media is the media. They will turn on anyone at any time for a single buck.

    Why shouldn’t they be played? Obama plays his games with them, and McCain is learning a different game with them. Sure it’s risky, but the stakes are high.

    We all play the hands we are dealt. May the best man win (For all of our sakes).

  3. Forgot my exit question:

    When these ads air during a newscast or talk/opinion piece, is there actual money exchanged? Does the network have to pay McCain for the rights to air the ad, or is it the other way around? From what I gathered reading the NYT piece, it’s just a free airing for the campaign.

  4. That Times piece is a nice and fluffy Obama one huh ? I don’t know maybe the media runs the soldier story hard ‘cuz they were shunned as well. As for the Paris Hilton.Spears one it’s a story because others want it to be.

  5. I think you’re giving the media too much credit by saying it’s unwitting. Although they have largely supported Obama, they’re not above pushing the occasional talking point from a candidate they used to love.

  6. No one pays when the news coverage includes someone’s ad. The news agency doesn’t have to pay because it would fall under Fair Use, and the campaign shouldn’t be paying for news coverage.

    As to making news with such ads, it certainly is possible, but I’m not sure how much good comes out of it. People accused Mike Huckabee of playing that game, but I’m pretty sure that even the most casual observer would have to agree that that only worked as a negative for Huckabee (second biggest mistake he made in the primary campaign, by the way, in my opinion, was showing that ad to anyone).

    Contrary to that old saying, I think that there is such a thing as bad publicity.

  7. Well Chen,
    The predominating concept on free ad time is, especially in news coverage of campaign ads, is that the imagery, not the message is the only thing that will be absorbed. Thats what made McCain’s oil prices ad particularly damning, because all people saw was rising oil prices and Obama.

    It’s also what made his “celebrity” as so stupid. It shows Obama standing in front of hundreds of thousand of American flag waving fans. On top of that he prefaced it with two blonde hotties.

    McCain might as well as filmed a pro-offshore drilling ad on a Southern California beach with the Baywatch crew in the background. Even if McCain was saying this beach would be safe from oil, all people would see is beautiful beach with hotties on it; don’t want to endanger that.

    Now, does this mean that anyone actually associated Obama and Hasselhoff? Mixed bag, but hey, they both have funny names.

  8. More dismal and saddening news for the American left:


  9. I also heard old man McTeleprompter also needs the media to help him up the stairs wherever he goes. LOL How pathetic!

    Barack Obama doesn’t need any help because he’s young, vibrant, and can walk without using a front-walker and talk without using a teleprompter. 😆

  10. Barack Obama doesn’t need any help because he’s young, vibrant, and can walk without using a front-walker and talk without using a teleprompter.

    It was thus interesting to see Obama climb to the stage at Virginia’s Jefferson-Jackson Dinner on Saturday night. As he strode to the podium, Obama clutched in his hands a pile of 3 by 5 index cards. The index cards meant only one thing–no Teleprompter.

    Shorn of his Teleprompter, we saw a different Obama. His delivery was halting and unsure. He looked down at his obviously copious notes every few seconds throughout the speech. Unlike the typical Obama oration where the words flow with unparalleled fluidity, he stumbled over his phrasing repeatedly.

    Are you kidding UglyKay? McBama without the teleprompter is like you posting on a blog…

    Not worth a shit.

  11. You know Tex, you had a makings of a good point there (even if you didn’t include a link), until the ad hominem. Not sure why you couldn’t restrain yourself. Defeat from the jaws of victory, or so they say.

    Anyway, on a related note, I got this interesting email from Obama today:

    Chen —

    A few hours ago John McCain, the same man who just months ago promised to run a “respectful campaign,” said he is “proud” of his latest attack ad.

    That’s the one attacking your enthusiasm, comparing me to Paris Hilton and Britney Spears, and making false claims about my energy plan.

    Now, we’re facing some serious challenges in this country — our economy is struggling, energy costs are skyrocketing, and families don’t have health care.

    Given the seriousness of these issues, you’d think we’d be having a serious debate. But instead, John McCain is running an expensive, negative campaign against us. Each day brings a desperate new set of attacks.

    And they’re not just attacking me. They’re attacking you.

    They’re mocking the desire of millions of Americans to step up and take ownership of the political process.

    They’re trying to convince you that your enthusiasm won’t amount to anything — that the people you persuade, the phone calls you make, the donations you give, the doors you knock on are all an illusion. They believe that in this election the same old smears and negative attacks will prevail again.

    They’re wrong.

    And right now, we have a few hours left to prove them wrong in a very concrete way.

    Make a donation of $5 or more before the July fundraising deadline at midnight tonight.

    Show the strength of our movement for change.

    Thank you,


    We’re on a first name basis! Must be my blogging skillz here in the Chamber.

  12. General, you chicken shit! LOL

    Hell, I couldn’t leave without at least one more white flag and I can’t think of anybody I love more to insult than that ugly ****.

    Anyway, don’t get a big head. I got the same message. One of my turd friends signed me up for that crap on a first name basis. Daily, I’m getting hit up for donations from Obama and Michelle pandering for money like I’m some lefty.

    Somebody is going to get there ass kicked when I found out which one of them did that.

  13. Tex-

    I’m not even sure where you’re getting the ugly part. Judging from a 36 x 36 pixel image that may or may not be her? And have you thought that maybe you should just put a lid on the sentiment, not just out of common decency, but also because you don’t appear to have the balls (yes, I know that I’ve lectured you on that before, but oh well) to even the playing field by posting your own picture up?

    BTW- I’m pretty sure the campaign makes it easy to unsubscribe to the emails. There’s a link at the bottom of each one.

  14. Oh General,

    Stop the faux piety crap. This is the lecturing, phony, “good” guy side of you that makes me retch. I’ve been to that witch’s blog site to check it out and her hideous mug is full screen wide for all the world to marvel. My screen cracked the first time I laid eyes on it.

    She adds nothing – ever. She comes in on every blog with her stupid rhetoric. Polly want a cracker?

    As far as putting a pic up, be my guest. You’re already dumb enough to put more up than you should. Really, really stupid on your behalf. You don’t like it, block me. I’ll assure I won’t be missing much.

  15. Tex-

    As far as putting a pic up, be my guest. You’re already dumb enough to put more up than you should. Really, really stupid on your behalf. You don’t like it, block me. I’ll assure I won’t be missing much.

    Just what the hell is that supposed to mean? I don’t have your picture. I don’t care what you look like. That’s kinda the point.

  16. “Given the seriousness of these issues, you’d think we’d be having a serious debate. But instead, John McCain is running an expensive, negative campaign against us. Each day brings a desperate new set of attacks.”

    Yes, given the seriousness of the issues, you’d think we’d be having a serious debate. (Like Obama would dare to debate. He might get an unscripted question that he doesn’t have a 3×5 card for.)

    But instead, Obama is busy crying about phantom racism against him. Yes, tell us some more about the important issues, Barack.

    “I also heard old man McTeleprompter also needs the media to help him up the stairs wherever he goes. LOL How pathetic!”

    I heard that Michelle Obama gave a speech about “whitey.” I heard that Barack Obama sold drugs! I heard the world is going to end in 2012!

    But not all of us believe everything we hear.

  17. “our movement” That bother anyone ,even a little ?

  18. Re: Britney and Paris ad

    McCain’s angle would have worked better and made more sense with someone whose entrance into politics was made much easier because of celebrity. Someone like, say, Schwarzenegger. Trying to mock a politician that has taken on a celebrity status for being a good politician does appear a bit desperate on the surface.

    Beneath the surface, well, bang for the buck, like I said. Perhaps they could have picked someone other than Paris though. The Hiltons are donors, and they are none too pleased with that one. Oops.

  19. Tex,
    I somehow missed how a lowering of the Iraq death toll was bad news for anyone.
    I may be leftist but I also came out of a graduating class growing up of 200 people, of which 43 joined the armed forces. Many (I haven’t kept in touch with all of them but I don’t think its a stretch to most) of them have been to Iraq or Afghanistan and 3 of them have been wounded.
    lowest death toll yet huh? Then why not bring them home. I fail to see how that’s a left or right issue.

  20. Hey Tex “I have sex with little boys” Taylor, 3X5 cards is your response? Nothing wrong with using index cards, asshole. Johnny uses his teleprompter like it’s his dialysis machine and will even give viewers an awkward smile when the teleprompter says, “Smile”. What the hell! He can’t even smile a real smile without being told to smile a real smile? How pathetic is that!!!!

    Hey, you love George Bush and Johnny McTeleprompter. 80% of the country is sick of both and their party. You’re on the losing end.

  21. I’m sure if one of the 3X5 index cards says:


    …you neocons would think he’s cheating! Right? Johnny can’t work off 3X5 index cards. He’s too stupid to. If his teleprompter screen read, “TALK ABOUT HEALTHCARE”, he would say to his audience consisting of 26 people (mainly family members), “talk about healthcare”, and then would stare blankly ahead and not understand what he just read aloud.

    See the difference? But hey! You think McTeleprompter is a young and vibrant guy! I don’t happen to agree with you. Johnny likes to bang rocks together and scream at trees in the park. No thanks. We’ve had 8 years of that already.

  22. Uh oh. I see what’s going on here:


    Nevermind. I should have known. Most neocons do have theirs in sideways and that’s why they’re all pissed off and lashing out at others.

    Bah hahahahahahaha! Sucks to be you!

  23. hmmm…I think it might be time for a new thread.

  24. Kay, if 80% of the country are sick of Bush, McCain, and Republicans then why are McCain and Obama even in the polls?

    And Bush may have a low approval rating, but he is beating the hell out of your Democratic-lead Congress. So tell us some more about who the country is sick of.

    We know it doesn’t suck yo be you—because ignorance is bliss.

    You could prove me wrong if you can offer up even 1 comment that actually addresses a real issue and uses a person’s real name. Personally, I don’t think you are capable of either. Especially since my many challenges to you to do so have gone unanswered.

  25. Lost in all the ad hominem garbage above is the original point – that McCain has gotten far better results for a brief ad run than any candidate could have gotten for a similar effort in previous elections.

    Even if McCain doesn’t know one end of a mouse from the other and probably couldn’t find the organic broccoli in a typical supermarket, at least his staff is showing some serious web marketing and campaign strategy skills.

    Consider how many millions of people have seen that ad, reacted to it, commented on it, blogged about it, and analyzed it by now, myself included. All for an ad that ran on one day this week. This WOULD NOT HAVE HAPPENED even four years ago.

  26. McCain is ahead in the daily tracking because his “ugly-frog” campaign strategy is working well with low-information voters. Do you guys ever talk about the real issues, or is your ultimate concern what Obama reads off of?

  27. Afrit007,

    I’m afraid your not watching the polls. While Obama’s numbers have settled a bit their is nothing to indicate that it is a result of McCain’s “celebrity” ads.

    A recent Pew poll asked whether or not people saw the candidates as arrogant, of which the two of them only polled 2% away. Whats likely happening is that already McCain committed Republicans are seeing Obama as more arrogant, and the same goes for Obama supporter towards McCain as a result of the ad. Voters in the middle tend to see it for what the ad really is: a load of crap, that they generally discount as soon as they see it.

    Also, I’d point out that there has been much more effective advertising of this type in the past, ads we still talk about today. See the “Willie Horton” ad, The North Carolina “handwringing ad” and though time will tell, I’m sure the Swiftboaters ads will be ranked up their with other two.

  28. Holy crap:

    Sixty-nine percent (69%) of the nation’s voters say they’ve seen news coverage of the McCain campaign commercial that includes images of Britney Spears and Paris Hilton and suggests that Barack Obama is a celebrity just like them.

    Talk about stretching your advertising dollar.

  29. UglyKay,

    Hey, you love George Bush and Johnny McTeleprompter. 80% of the country is sick of both and their party. You’re on the losing end.

    Not nearly as bad as being on the end of the sad soul that impregnated your ugly ass.

  30. Marc,

    I somehow missed how a lowering of the Iraq death toll was bad news for anyone.

    Ah, I’m just teasing General Chen. That’s an inside joke.

  31. Isn’t it awesome that this weekend saw Sen John Kerry on Meet the Press and Mr. Daschle on Fox LYING about what the celebrity ad actually said and what Obama has said respectively. I know these examples are probably right wing media talking points but I don’t read those so you’ll have to accept me at my word that this is just an observation. I for one would tell my minions to STFU and let the potential “benefits” of this spot just die.If you’re not smart enough to do that I don’t know if you’re smart enough for the Oval man !

  32. I still say you guys have all missed the part where McCain quite literally put Obama’s face on a one-dollar bill. He did, right in an ad.

    In the context of all that, I’m not sure why Obama’s comment is such a big deal. He did try to scare people by putting his face on the dollar.

  33. Marc,

    I didn’t say it was a highly successful or effective ad campaign, I said it got more exposure for the dollars spent than would have happened in previous elections.

    As for arrogance, isn’t that virtually a personality requirement to run for president? Seriously, no one starts a campaign by saying “vote for me, ’cause I think I might be pretty good at the job, but it’s up to you, you don’t have to but it’d be nice…” A certain amount of arrogance is necessary to win the election and succeed at the job.

    You’re right about the Willie Horton and Swift Boat ads. When your ad spawns a new verb, that’s a successful campaign. Virulent, venal and vile, but successful.

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