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NRA Joins Down-to-the-Wire Pursuit of Undecided Voters

Campaign Aimed at Suburban Men in Swing States Who Watch Sports on TV and Online

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The outcome of the presidential election is said to hinge on a miniscule sliver of still-persuadable voters who reside in swing states, and the National Rifle Association can be added to the list of organizations and PACs who are marketing down to the wire to get through to them.

NRA ad on Pandora.
NRA ad on Pandora.
Though the NRA is best known for its role in firing up the Republican base during elections, it's invested upwards of $11 million this fall in TV, radio and online ads (not including a direct-mail and phone piece) aimed at undecided voters in the usual-suspect list of swing states that includes Nevada, Colorado, Wisconsin and Virginia. A hefty 32% of that budget has been allotted for digital, including pre-roll video ads, full-page interstitial ads on news sites like denverpost.com, and page skins on Pandora, according to Brad Todd, a partner at the Republican media shop On Message Inc., which is handling the buying in electronic channels. Messaging centers on Obama's two Supreme Court picks and the threat the organization believes they pose to Second Amendment rights.

According to NRA spokesman Andrew Arulanandam, the fact that the organization's membership can be depended on to get out and vote en masse has freed it up to seek out swing voters.

"[It] allows us to go after the undecideds and focus our resources over there and make a bigger difference," he said.

While both presidential campaigns have made conspicuous efforts to court female swing voters, it's suburban men who aren't active hunters or shooters but who agree with the NRA philosophically or on the grounds of self-defense who are the focus of the ad campaign, which entered full throttle in October and will continue through Election Day. A decision was made to invest heavily in sports content and to mostly eschew news, a departure from the tack taken by Priorities USA and Restore Our Future, the super PACs backing President Barack Obama and Mitt Romney, Mr. Todd said.

"We believe that premium content matters for undecided voters because they don't seek political news," he said. "If they were political news seekers, they likely wouldn't be undecided in October."

During the week of Oct. 15, for example, the NRA's TV mix for the swing-voter campaign was 78% sports, 12% late-night (centered on the likes of David Letterman and Jay Leno), 7% prime time and just 2% news. Meanwhile, data Mr. Todd pulled for Obama backer Priorities USA for a week in October shows 40% of TV spending going toward morning programming -- which suggests a focus on women -- and that sports accounted for roughly 1% of gross ratings points purchased. Estimates for Romney backer Restore Our Future show spending more evenly balanced across times of day, but only 14% of GRPs going toward sports, Mr. Todd said.

In terms of the digital budget, roughly 20% went to premium sports publishers, a windfall for properties like Chicago White Sox-owned Silver Chalice, which syndicates sports-related video content for distribution to partners like Gannett and McClatchy-owned local sites. The NRA's buy was mostly for college football-related content, with pre-roll appearing in a Miami Hurricanes video on the Miami Herald's site, for example.

The surge in political spending this fall made up for the large chunk of ad dollars that historically get diverted from fall sports programming to the Olympics, according to Rich Routman, general manager at the Silver Chalice division SEASON.

"Otherwise, we probably would have come up short," Mr. Routman said. He noted that Silver Chalice had done a lot of business with Republican House candidates this year, though it doesn't have a political tilt in either direction.

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