TV, Digital, Presidential Debates and Epiphanies from my College Term Paper
09 May 2016 • tvsquared


I have such a vivid memory of a term paper that I wrote in college, which analyzed media objectivity during the 2000 Bush/Gore presidential race. While the paper is imprinted in my mind due to the fact that I pulled a NoDoz-fueled all-nighter to finish it, it’s also when I learned about a fascinating piece of U.S. history.

In 1960, John F. Kennedy and Richard Nixon took part in the first televised presidential debate. Kennedy, debonair in a well-tailored suit, looked straight into the camera and commanded the attention of the 70 million people watching. Nixon, recovering from an illness, wearing a baggy suit and the hint of a five-o’clock shadow, appeared a bit nervous and sweaty. People watching on TV thought, overwhelmingly, that Kennedy won the debate. But those who listened on the radio thought Nixon did.

While some of these 60s-era polling tactics have come into question recently, this is still a perfect example of the power of television.

In 2016, we live in a digital world – digital is sexy, I get it. But while being inundated with election news here in the U.S., I keep coming across articles about the rise in digital ad spending among candidates. Many of these articles cite digital’s measurement and targeting opportunities as the reasons for the growth. But here’s what drives me crazy: within some of these articles, TV is still acknowledged as being the biggest outlet for media spending, but some pundits predict its decline because it doesn’t provide the same optimization opportunities as digital. And that is simply not true.

Today, TV is an optimized marketing channel (just like digital) that can be quickly measured and highly targeted. And candidates certainly see its value, as they’re spending an estimated $4.4 billion on TV ads this year. A recent STRATA survey also found that 78% of respondents (from political ad agencies) said local TV ads delivered the strongest ROI for campaigns. With products such as TVSquared, response to the ads can be measured in near-real time down to the IP address.

Now, I’m not knocking digital, but it’s not an either/or strategy, it’s  complementary, especially with measurement playing field-level. TV is still the most powerful marketing channel for candidates – not to mention advertisers too. With TV, they CAN reach target audiences with tailored messages, they CAN accurately know who’s watching and when, they CAN measure the impact of ads and they CAN optimize those ads while they’re still on the air. It just takes the right tools.

TV is not going anywhere and will continue to play a vital part in elections for generations to come.