Axelrod, Gillespie Talk Political Ads in Age of Twitter

Broadcast still king, say former Obama and Bush advisors

The speed of technological development these days makes the pace of the presidential election cycle seem absolutely glacial. Last time around, Barack Obama was hailed for his grasp of new media—which included a massive text messaging campaign as a core component of his get-out-the-vote operation. In the age of Twitter, that sort of thing seems ancient.

These days, the talk has turned not only to Tweets but to Facebook and ad interactivity. At a roundtable discussion between former Obama senior advisor David Axelrod and former George W. Bush advisor Ed Gillespie (moderated by CNN political correspondent Candy Crowley ) during the Cable Show in Chicago yesterday, the two strategists pondered the political ad in a rapidly changing media market.

“New technologies are going to be helpful,” Axelrod said. “If we have the ability not just to send ads but to have interactive experiences with them, [that’s desirable]. And that’s a feature the Internet offers. If cable can do that for us, it will be an attractive feature as well.”

Gillespie agreed—and tipped his hat to Obama during his 2008 campaign.

He “really blazed a trail capturing names for text messages,” Gillespie said. “We’ll try to build on that. Every campaign cycle you learn from what the other side did well. Twitter was not as big a factor as it is today.”

Some of their remarks were certain to have rankled more than a few in the Cable Show audience. For all the talk of cable’s myriad benefits this week (the speakers who followed Gillespie and Axelrod pointed out that the cable upfront market will soon outsize the broadcast market), broadcast is still the most desirable ad-buy during the height of the presidential campaign season, according to Axelrod. Cable, he said, just doesn’t have the reach.

“Broadcast is going to get the lion’s share [of political ad spending this coming election cycle],” Axelrod said. “It isn’t always terribly efficient, but you hit a lot of people. . . . It’s the nuclear weapon of [campaign advertising].” Gillespie echoed the point: “If the president has a billion dollars to spend, they’ll buy American Idol and NCIS. And our candidate will be buying the cooking channel in Akron, Ohio.”