Thursday, 16 August 2012

What if campaign ads stopped working?

I quite like the Daily Kos, it's gloriously partisan, in the same way as a site like TechDirt, and it does what it does with a savage accuracy which is extremely entertaining. Here's a quote from an article posted today which gave me pause:
It is now August, and Romney tried the same tactic—over $100 million has been spent by the conservative Super PACs attacking President Barack Obama, yet the president has remained resilient in the polling. Perhaps more damaging, Romney has been stuck in the low 40s in key battleground states. His personal unpopularity has acted as an anchor around his neck, preventing him from making real gains against Obama.
I'd also recently read this, over at Campaign Sick (emphasis in the original):
Even more frustrating is the myth that yard signs influence the outcome of a campaign. Every organizer has rolled her eyes at the potential volunteer who claims they "don't have time to come in, but I have a yard sign" as if that excuses or mitigates a lack of participation...

...
However, because the competition is doing it, we have to do it too. Although yard signs neither vote nor win elections it can be demoralizing for volunteers and activists if your entire town is covered in signs for your opponent. Yard signs and chum can work the other way and give your local activists a sense of cohesion and pride.
So here's a hypothetical, in the age of fragmenting media, where media is consumed by choice, rather than on an unalterable live feed, is it possible that campaign ads could become the audio visual equivalent of the yard sign? I'm not saying that it has yet, but that wider trends in media certainly suggest they will become less useful over time

I don't own a television. I've not turned on a television since Christmas, when I sat down with my parents to watch something (I can only imagine it was Dr Who or some other Christmas staple). I go to the computer for all my entertainment, and so do most of my friends. To varying degrees they have ad blockers and other tools which eliminate 90% or more of the advertising on the net, so even passive exposure is possible to largely eliminate in the context of computer based entertainment.

With the advent of Smart TVs and other similar tools the experience of television is far far closer to that currently avaliable on your computer than it is on a traditional computer. This means a day is coming when being exposed to advertising in the home is almost certain to vanish from the majority of homes, because even if the older generation don't know how to eliminate it, their friends (or kindly neighbours) will set it up for them.

There's no easy answer to how you stop this problem, beyond trying to make your ads so shocking or out there that they get featured on sites like Reddit and become part of the overall zeitgeist. We've seen this happen recently, with a pro Obama ad accused Romney (indirectly) of causing a woman's death. Pretty awful in terms of fact checking, but it cut through, without ever having been released.

A savvy campaigner would look at these trends and extrapolate 5 years down the line when these technologies are ubiquitous and easier to access than they are now. When the workarounds are so good that literally no one has to view advertising in their homes unless they specifically seek it out. That day is coming, and it's coming fast.
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