Candidates Prefer ‘Tried-and-True’

NEW YORK Political candidates from both parties are demonstrating a stubborn devotion to traditional media, along with a cautious streak that is holding them back from embracing the Web as an outlet for political ad dollars, according to a group of panelists speaking during a Mixx Conference session held here on Tuesday.

Despite Americans’ rapidly changing media habits, the panelists predicted that most spending will remain on TV and other tried-and-true outlets.

“When it comes to paid media, candidates are about seven years behind,” said Richard Kosinski, vp of political advertising, Yahoo!. Kosinski estimated that most candidates were planning to spend roughly 1 percent of their total media budgets online, versus the 7 percent that most mainstream brands typically spend on the medium.

And while many candidates have embraced social media platforms such as MySpace, Facebook and YouTube to state their case to the online audience, where they often don’t have to spend a dime, when it comes to true advertising, “they are not quite there yet,” he added.

According to Rob Shepardson, founding partner at SS+K, who has helped advise Senator Barack Obama’s campaign, most candidates consider the Web an excellent place to fundraise and to engage activists, but aren’t convinced about its effectiveness in persuading voters. “That’s still where the question is,” he said. “It’s about getting people out on a cold night in Iowa…that’s the biggest challenge.”

Arianna Huffington, co-founder and editor-in-chief of HuffingtonPost.com, said that those holding the decision power for candidates’ media campaigns, political consultants, too often rely on what they’ve done in the past, whether it’s worked or not. “What we are seeing in this election…is the dominance of the political game by the same consultants. This is the only profession where you lose again and again and get rehired,” she said.

And those retread consultants know how to do 30-second spots, which Huffington said, “are unbelievably boring…like in the 1950s.”

Shepardson said that another contributing factor to the slow stream of Web dollars is 2008’s truncated primary season and the number of states in play, which is adding to the conservatism. “There is enormous pressure on this money,” he said, thus, the ad strategies so far “are not terribly innovative.”

However, Kosinski offered a flicker of hope for those pining for a political spending blitz on the Web: there is still plenty of time. “We’re still early in this race,” he said. “Right now, candidates are still in raise and save mode.” That could change as the fields thin out, and TV inventory potentially gets tighter next year. “Necessity is the mother of all invention.”