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Online Ads: Spreading Your Message, On A Budget

Nov 22, 2011
Originally published on November 23, 2011 12:23 pm

The Internet has become the medium of choice for presidential contenders this year.

True, Texas Gov. Rick Perry is buying TV time in Iowa and elsewhere, pitching his status as a Washington outsider. And just Tuesday, Mitt Romney put up his first TV ad in New Hampshire, asking voters to "Believe in America."

But most of the videos in the campaign so far have been seen, and distributed, online.

At Romney's website, you'll find 13 pages' worth of videos. Some are simply clips of Romney's appearances on TV, but many others are slick productions. In one titled "Stop the Spending," people identified as "private sector job creators" criticize the 2009 stimulus bill and raise fears of another one.

Ken Goldstein, who tracks campaign ads for Kantar Media's Campaign Media Analysis Group, or CMAG, says videos like Romney's have become increasingly popular with candidates for a couple of reasons.

"They're a very cheap thing for the campaign to do — sometimes it doesn't really even cost that much money to produce the ad," he says. "And then what they're hoping to do is get a bunch of earned media or free media coverage to amplify that message."

Perhaps the most talked-about video in the campaign so far was a pretty simple production, starring Herman Cain's campaign manager and his cigarette.

Videos like those are like catnip to TV producers. Kathleen Hall Jamieson, a professor of communication at the University of Pennsylvania's Annenberg School, says campaigns are using Web videos because they work.

"Because of 24-hour-a-day news cycles now," she says, there is "all but an open channel for anything that's clever or extremely controversial, anything that's visual, and anything that's political. And as a result there is now a dissemination channel wide open, waiting to accept these ads."

Some video ads are simple clip jobs: Take a couple of bites of your candidate, mix in appropriate background music, add a few graphic titles, and voila, you've got a Web-ready video. Newt Gingrich's campaign posted one Monday, featuring some clips from a GOP debate last August in which Gingrich blasted the deficit-cutting supercommittee and which now makes the former House speaker look prescient:

But with greater distribution comes greater scrutiny. For instance, a new ad for Cain in Iowa shows a farmer disparaging the EPA.

"The EPA wants to regulate dust on farmers," the ad says. "You can't plow a field without dust. You can't drive down a gravel road without dust. My dog makes dust."

The Annenberg Public Policy Center has a new website called FlackCheck.org, which promises to take down misleading claims like Cain's attack against a nonexistent regulation. This one stars a talking cow named Emilky:

If nothing else, FlackCheck shows that almost anyone with a computer and editing software can produce an Internet video.

It may or may not win awards, but it gets your message across — and that's why campaigns churn them out.


Copyright 2014 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.

Rick Perry is buying TV time in Iowa. And just today, Mitt Romney put up his first TV ad in New Hampshire. But don't be fooled, the Internet, not the television, has become the medium of choice this year for a presidential contenders. Most of the video in the campaign so far has been seen and distributed online.

As NPR's Brian Naylor reports, campaigns like web videos because they're cheaper than TV and they often get picked up by news outlets.

BRIAN NAYLOR, BYLINE: If you go to Mitt Romney's website and click on videos, you'll find 13 pages worth. Some are simply clips of Romney's appearances on TV, but many others are slick productions. In this one, titled "Stop the Spending," people identified as private sector job creators criticize the 2009 stimulus bill and raise fears of another one.

(SOUNDBITE OF POLITICAL AD)

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: I'm not seeing the money that's being spent falling into the hands of our customers.

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: ...new way forward on jobs, grow the economy and put more Americans back to work right now.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #1: Yeah, it's really frustrating to hear that there might be a second stimulus bill that's going to be passed.

NAYLOR: Ken Goldstein, who tracks campaign ads for Kantar Media's CMAG, says videos like Romney's have become increasingly popular with candidates for a couple of reasons.

KEN GOLDSTEIN: They're a very cheap thing for the campaign to do. Sometimes it doesn't really even cost that much money to produce the ad. And then what they're hoping to do is get a bunch of earned media or free media coverage, to amplify that message.

NAYLOR: So if I talk about this ad, all I'm doing is giving a in-kind contribution to Mitt Romney.

GOLDSTEIN: Exactly.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

NAYLOR: Perhaps the most talked about video in the campaign so far was a pretty simple production, starring Herman Cain's campaign manager and his cigarette.

(SOUNDBITE OF A POLITICAL AD)

MARK BLOCK: We've run a campaign like nobody has ever seen. But then, America has never seen a candidate like Herman Cain.

NAYLOR: Videos like those are catnip to TV producers. Kathleen Hall Jamieson is a professor of communication at the University of Pennsylvania's Annenberg School. Jamieson says campaigns are using web videos because they work.

PROFESSOR KATHLEEN HALL JAMIESON: Because of 24-hour-a-day news cycles now is all but an open channel for anything that's clever or extremely controversial - anything that's visual and anything that's political. And as a result there is now a dissemination channel wide open, waiting to accept these ads.

NAYLOR: Some video ads are simple clip jobs. Take a couple of bites of your candidate, mix in appropriate background music, add a few graphic titles and voila, you've got a web-ready video. Newt Gingrich's campaign posted one yesterday, featuring some clips from a GOP debate last August in which Gingrich blasted the deficit-cutting supercommittee, and which now makes the former speaker look prescient.

(SOUNDBITE OF POLITICAL AD)

NEWT GINGRICH: They're going to walk in just before Thanksgiving and say, all right, we can shoot you in the head or cut off your right leg. Which do you prefer? What they ought to do is scrap the committee right now, recognize it's a dumb idea, go back to regular legislative business, assign every subcommittee the task of finding savings, do it out in the open through regular legislative order and get rid of this secret, phony business.

(SOUNDBITE OF CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

NAYLOR: But with greater distribution comes greater scrutiny. For instance, a new ad for Cain in Iowa shows a farmer disparaging the EPA.

(SOUNDBITE OF POLITICAL AD)

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: The EPA wants to regulate dust on farmers. You can't plow a field without dust. You can't drive down a gravel road without dust. My dog makes dust.

NAYLOR: The Annenberg Center has a new website called FlackCheck.org, which promises to take down misleading claims like Cain's attack against a non-existing regulation. This one stars a talking cow named Emilky.

(SOUNDBITE OF A FLACKCHECK.ORG AD)

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #2: Bottom-line: If Herman Cain wants to continue to milk this false claim, he should put a bull in this video.

(SOUNDBITE OF COW AND A BARKING DOG)

NAYLOR: If nothing else, FlackCheck shows that almost anyone with a computer and editing software can produce an Internet video. That may or may not win awards, but gets your message across. And that's why campaigns churn them out.

Brian Naylor, NPR News, Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.