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Democratic Party's Media Bias Revealed

Posted by: Jon Fine on March 23, 2007

The just-out Rolling Stone has an interesting piece that points to an achilles heel of Democratic Presidential campaigns: the media consultant.

Money quote (emphasis mine):

The party’s campaign strategists operate under contracts that would make Halliburton blush. While their GOP counterparts work for a flat fee on presidential campaigns, Democratic media consultants profit on commission, pocketing as much as ten percent of every dollar spent on TV ads.

Which perverts the incentives of such political strategists. The inevitable Joe Trippi riposte:

“There’s little impetus to try anything new,” says Joe Trippi, who orchestrated Howard Dean’s insurgency in 2004. “You can’t get a ten percent commission on a million people viewing something for free on YouTube.”

(By the way: if you think Trippi’s avoided this trap, check out his employment history.)

I’ve been dragged kicking and screaming into believing that, yes, the television commercial is has more life in it than some like to claim, but Trippi’s absolutely right. I cannot imagine any serious marketing mind thinks that a never-ending series of consistently awful TV commercials that bludgeon potential customers with brute repetition and annoying ubiquity will work—but that’s exactly what political advertising does!

I’ve long been kind of obsessed with this notion—for that matter, I’ve long been kind of obsessed with how hideously square and hidebound the culture surrounding politics is—and wrote about it in greater detail here.

Reader Comments


March 26, 2007 12:22 PM

Isn't the issue with political advertising that it asks people to do something on one particular day where they are confronted by people who try to tell them they're wrong and they get no immediate benefit similar to buying a product or paying for a service- making it advertising that's really not Madison-Avenue-Friendly. This is not true of the percentage (10%? 20%?) of Americans for whom politics mean something, but... When it comes to innovation, my best idea was to place ads requesting absentee ballots to lock-in votes early, could you imagine the Republicans getting congressional votes prior to the Cocktober scandal last election? Beyond that, I got nothing. Remember also that candidates in 2007 are living under the 24-hour eye of the camera so that all missteps will be used against them, it's not like they can target an audience with a specific text message that their opposition wouldn't use against them with a different audience. Think an email going to seniors touting benefits to that group that the opposition party's attack dogs would use to anger students that Candidate A supports prescription drugs but not school loans. When the UN Secretary General flinched on camera it occurred to me that every possible opposition person will try to get the candidates to flinch or stumble for their latest "He Stumbled on Health Insurance Reform, he'll stumble in congress" youtube video on your iPhone.


March 26, 2007 1:00 PM

For more information on this exact topic you can read a book called "Crashing the Gate". It's from the people at the DailyKos website so it's a bit biased and like everything else you need to take it with a grain of salt but it does highlight what a huge business political consulting is and why these people have no incentive to do a better job. They have very cushy positions and it seems like their focus is more on making sure that doesn't change rather than winning elections or trying new things. The Republicans realized the error of commissions on media buys a while ago and it's allowed them to become more efficient in allocation of resources.

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