Campaign Ads: You Can’t Live With ‘Em, Media Can’t Live Without ‘Em

Thanks to all of the campaign ads, this is the best time of the year.

Well, it is if you run a local TV or radio station and you’re going to make budget thanks to the the ads and the cash they bring in. But for  the rest of us, it’s tempting to watch every show via DVR.

Most of the ads inundating us are negative. Many of them have dubious origins, paid for with “soft money” from hidden Political Action Committees with seemingly bottomless funds, all sanctioned by the U.S. Supreme Court. Some mention the candidate they are trying to slam over and over again, seemingly violating every rule of branding. Others are so absurdly over-the-top, they can make you laugh out loud.

Some of these ads seem designed to make the people who work on the campaigns feel good. Others are deemed effective by those who study such things  (and those who make a living producing them). But what’s the impact overall?

It’s tough to overstate the positive impact of campaign ads on media of all sorts, but especially local television. In an era of decreasing revenues, big election years with open governor seats, U.S. Senate contests, U.S. House races that attract national dollars and in states like Michigan, statewide ballot proposals, election seasons can generate the types of profits that keep corporate ownership happy and secure station resources for another year. Radio stations, cable companies and even newspapers, especially via online ads, can also benefit. It’s not just furniture stores and car dealers keeping local media afloat. Political campaigns really help.

But for the audience, it seems all of the absurdity can be toxic. Does the ad bonanza create a feeling of toxicity, contributing to low voter turnout? Is this part of the reason why 26 percent of Americans consider themselves “politically disengaged?”

In the midst of this madness, here’s a little advice. Bear with it for two more weeks. If nothing else, it’s helping to fund your local media, which you depend on, at the very least, during times of severe weather and, at most, every day to keep you informed. Speaking of informed, commit to that and find out what you need to about the candidates in your area through other sources than ads. And please, don’t let this turn you off to the process. The worst kind of protest vote would be letting someone else decide, based on what they see in the ads.