Tone, not frequency of ads irk swing state voters

Posted on: 12:57 pm, September 19, 2012, by

By Allison Brennan

WASHINGTON (CNN) — If you live in a battleground state, chances are you’ve seen your share of political ads this election season. They come on during prime-time network TV, pop up while you’re cheering on the Buckeyes or the Broncos and they even get you when you’re cruising to your favorite station on the way to work.

The reason for such a concentrated air war is that voters in swing states like Colorado and Ohio could decide the election.

“A swing state is somewhere where there are persuadable voters,” said Democratic Strategist and President of Blue Engine Message & Media David Di Martino.

The ads air in those states because, Di Martino says, “It’s important to battle on the playing field that [those voters] are in.”

And that’s why in swing states, voters can say they’ve noticed an increase in the ads.

“The frequency [of ads] is mind bending,” said Bill Stakelin, 69, a retired radio broadcast executive who lives in Cincinnati.

“[There are] a lot [of ads] – pretty much every other commercial it seems like,” said Erin Mahoney, 32, a Business Manager at Medical Marijuana Center in Frisco, Colorado.

Don’t look for the number of commercials to let up anytime soon.

There are different schools of thought on why and how often to show commercials, but they both agree that frequency works.

“The working principal is that every time that an ad runs, voters are seeing it for the first time,” said Keith Appell, a Republican strategist and senior vice president at CRC Public Relations. “There is a second working principal that voters need to see it three, four, five times for it to resonate.”

But still, voters in these states say it’s the tone and content — or lack thereof — of ads that bothers them, not their frequency.

In Iowa for instance, medical student Katie Ryken, 23, says that voters in the state — which serves as the first caucus in the primary system — take pride in their important political position in the country and they are used to not only the attention, but the “barrage” of ads that stream across TV screens from Des Moines to Iowa City.

“We take it very seriously,” Ryken said. “But I think that I have noticed and what I think what bothers people is the overall negativity of the ads.”

“What’s frustrating to me I think that our general population is intelligent enough to absorb real issues,” Ryken continued, “and I think that it’s disappointing that candidates have to go to attack ads.”

Mahoney said the commercials she sees when she isn’t fast forwarding through them using her DVR are bothersome for the same reason.

“They really just kind of frustrate me because they say the same thing on both sides, Mahoney said. “One is that Obama hasn’t created jobs, the other is that Romney is shipping jobs overseas…it’s more school yard jabs [than substantive arguments].”

Stakelin said that both candidates have a similar message: “What [the other candidate] is going to do negative to you is to destroy you, your children and your country.”

That voters are seeing largely negative ads is true — and largely on purpose.

A CNN analysis of data from the Campaign Media Analysis Center, a non-partisan company that measures the content of political ads, shows that the majority of campaign ads shown across the country and in battleground state are negative.

Why? Because, political strategists from both parties say that negative ads work.

“Every election you hear that there are too many negative ads,” said Appell, “And in every election they work. That’s why in every election you see negative ads.”

Di Martino says they work because voters remember the content of negative ads more than they remember the content of positive ads. But he also says that outside spending has caused the number of negative ads to increase in recent history.

“I think the fundamental thing that has changed in the last five to ten years is that more and more ads are not being sponsored by the campaigns … which are on the ballot,” said Di Martino.

The influx of spending by groups not associated with the campaigns, he says, “has made the tone of modern campaigns far more negative than they used to be.”

As a consumer and also as a retired broadcaster, Stakelin doesn’t think that the ads he’s seen in this election will prove effective.

“I think that if you’re a student of the ad game and politics,” said Stakelin “we’re going to be able to look at this election and see what was effective [with campaign ads]…That effectiveness is just not there.”

Advertising is done, Stakelin says, to plant a seed and get a reaction. But the negativity in the ads from both sides, “become a turnoff and they basically balance themselves out.”

The bottom line from political strategists, Appell says is “if they weren’t effective, campaigns wouldn’t run them.”

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