Obama Turns to the Humble Infomercial

Maybe He's Trying to Win the Insomniac Vote

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WASHINGTON (AdAge.com) -- The Obama campaign is the first to use a long-form infomercial during the 2008 presidential campaign.

If you hadn't noticed, that may have been because the nearly 30-minute program aired at 1:30 a.m. Aug. 10 on ION Television.

The Obama campaign confirmed the airing of what it called a "long-form commercial" but provided no details and also declined to answer questions on why it ran the ad. The mostly biographical 28-minute, 30-second program included scenes of the Illinois senator's keynote speech to the 2004 Democratic National Convention as well as scenes from other campaign appearances along with background about Mr. Obama and frequent call-in numbers.

There was immediate speculation that the airing was a late-night test for whether the infomercial format could successfully generate contributions and calls. While Republican rival Sen. John McCain is accepting federal financing for the fall campaign, Mr. Obama has declined the funding and thus is unrestrained from spending limits, but must continue raising his own funds.

"It is a first. I guess they are going after the insomniac vote," said Evan Tracey, chief operating officer of TNS Media Intelligence's Campaign Media Analysis Group. He said the unusual airing time in fact appears to allow the campaign to test the effectiveness of the infomercial format without spending much.

Mr. Tracey said the infomercial is a first from any of the presidential campaigns this year, and may be the first from any of the presidential campaigns in years. In 1992, the Clinton campaign occasionally ran "A Man From Hope," a biography originally produced for the Democratic National Convention, as an infomercial. And in both 1992 and 1994, Reform Party candidate Ross Perot used infomercials as a mainstay of his advertising efforts.

UPDATE: According to the Obama campaign, "This was one more effective way for us to communicate with folks who may not normally see other communications we have with voters who are paying closer attention to the race."