ANA's Dan Jaffe on Why TV Is Taking a Beating in White House Race

But General Election is Likely to Be Much Different Than the Primary

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The Association of National Advertiser's top lobbyist Dan Jaffe, says the more than $320 million spent on television advertising so far in the race to the White House has failed to pack much of a punch.

A main reason political advertising has fallen flat? GOP presidential hopeful Donald Trump has been better than anyone at using social media and earned media -- news and commentary about his campaign in newspapers and magazines -- to promote himself.

Dan Jaffe
Dan Jaffe Credit: ANA

The media tracking firm mediaQuant estimated Mr. Trump has earned nearly $2 billion in earned media attention, dwarfing his Republican competitors. Meanwhile the billionaire developer has spent the least -- about $10 million on TV ads.

"He has created some new innovations that will be studied by all future candidates," Mr. Jaffe said.

The advertising industry lobbyist talked to Advertising Age about the failings of political ads in the race for the White House.

Ad Age: Why have voters largely ignored the onslaught of TV ads that have dominated the airwaves in the primaries?

Mr. Jaffe: The person that spent the least amount of money has been the most successful. That doesn't mean that advertising doesn't work. But you can't separate advertising from the product and people are seeing the product at many of the debates.

If people don't like the product it's not going to sell. Jeb Bush has spent more than anybody else and we have seen it hasn't been effective.

Ad Age: How has Donald Trump succeeded without spending a lot on ads?

Mr. Jaffe: What Trump has been able to do is use a mixture of earned media and social media to drive his campaign. His use of Twitter has been one of his major innovations. He has an enormous number of followers. He's pushy and says things that catch people's attention. His is able to call various cable networks and they will take the call.

Ad Age: Is the political environment a factor in the failure of TV ads to sell candidates this year?

Mr. Jaffe: Well, the general environment has been "the mad as hell and we won't take it any more" election, making it hard for some candidates. How you decide whether a product is good or bad in the political arena is whether people support it or not. If people don't, no amount of advertising will help. If people don't like the product, it's not going to sell.

Edsel [the infamous 1958 Ford model] advertising was very successful in getting people to the showrooms, but when they looked at the product they didn't like it. Advertising is not a magic wand.

Ad Age: Have ads worked better with Democratic candidates?

Mr. Jaffe: They are certainly using their advertising budgets more effectively. But Bernie Sanders spent a lot of money in several states that he lost.

Ad Age: So is this election year going to deliver a big blow to the political ad industry?

Mr. Jaffe: We don't know what we are seeing is an aberration or a new paradigm. Copying Trump's approach can only be done by politicians who have the same qualities he has, including charisma and celebrity.

It is my expectation that some of the rules that are being broken right now won't be in the general election, when it will be harder to run a campaign just on earned media. You have to run a general campaign that targets states with the largest electoral votes -- and no candidate can be everywhere at the same time.

I think there will be more of the normal type of campaign advertising. But we won't know for sure until it happens.

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