Chief Justice Chuck Malone spent $240,000 in the same market, more than his opponents combined. He lost.
Six interns from The Star collected and analyzed the public files on political ad sales at five broadcast television stations, trying to find out who spent what in Alabama’s biggest TV market during the 2012 primary.
But Alabama’s primary — in which then-presidential candidate Rick Santorum and chief justice nominee Roy Moore beat better-funded primary opponents — posed an unusual question: Do TV ads even matter in getting people to the polls?
One thing is clear: While there’s more money in politics these days, a single minute of airtime doesn’t pack as much punch as it used to.
Lance Kinney, an associate professor of advertising at the University of Alabama, said audiences are much more splintered than they were 20 or 30 years ago.
“In prime time, you have people watching ‘American Idol’ and a hundred different alternatives,” Kinney said. “So you have to begin to broaden your advertising buy to reach the same market because the market is split across several advertising platforms.”
The TV stations’ public files show most candidates taking a two-pronged strategy to achieve that reach. Throughout the campaigns, candidates would advertise on local and national news programs — the shows most likely to reach regular voters. But as the March primary approached, the money began to move more toward “Idol,” “Grey’s Anatomy” or “The Bachelor” — shows with larger audiences from a wider demographic. Candidates also bought copious amounts of advertising on daytime and early-evening warhorses such as “Judge Judy,” “Dr. Oz” and “Wheel of Fortune.”
One school of thought holds that candidates should advertise on news shows, where a larger percentage of the viewers will vote, said Richard Fording of the political science department at the University of Alabama.
“But with an ‘American Idol’ audience, you also reach more total voters,” he said.