Study Rates Politicians' Media Plans: Ross Perot Looks Smartest

Bill Clinton Opts for BET, While Bob Dole Loves His Weather Channel

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Those who don't know history are doomed to repeat it -- which is why a new firm peddling a media optimizer software program is analyzing the TV buys of presidential candidates in the days before the 1996 election.

Audience Analytics, a media software and consulting company based in Provo, Utah, dissected the media buys of Bill Clinton, Bob Dole and Ross Perot's campaigns to show how its optimizer can improve a media plan today.

Mark Cannon, president of Audience Analytics, said those media plans were not very rational.

"Clinton was apparently trying to target African-American voters," Mr. Cannon said. "He put most of his advertising on BET [Black Entertainment Television] and on `The Cosby Show.' And Dole put almost all of his advertising on the Weather Channel. Don't ask me why."

Mr. Perot, on the other hand, scattered his advertising, buying mostly expensive prime-time slots.

"That was probably the wisest strategy," Mr. Cannon suggested. "He got great frequency and reach, but it was a very expensive proposition."

Audience Analytics conducted the political advertising study recently in order to test Audience Analysis Systems, a new optimizer software program that examines the details of media distribution in TV by half-hour programs, rather than broader categories of dayparts used by other optimizers.

INDIVIDUAL EXPOSURES

"The optimization doesn't generalize like other systems," Mr. Cannon said. "It finds where those people are watching and scores those exposures. The computer is actually counting individual exposures."

In concentrating advertising on just one network, President Clinton and Sen. Dole got high frequency but low reach, according to Mr. Cannon's analysis.

"There is a large segment of the population, even of the black population, that never watches black networks," Mr. Cannon said. Also, only 13% of "Cosby's" audience is black, according to the optimizer, which is linked to data from Nielsen Media Research and Competitive Media Reporting. "One needs to distribute ads more broadly," Mr. Cannon insisted.

The company created an alternative, optimal media buy for targeting a black audience today, based on viewer demographic information captured by its software.

"In our optimal campaign, we reached an audience that's 25% black," Mr. Cannon said. That optimized plan included placement in programs such as ESPN's "Sportscenter," CNN's "Larry King Live" and TBS' "National Geographic Explorer."

Mr. Cannon admitted that media buys based on an optimal plan would be very expensive. "But what you do is take this specific plan and generalize it during the media buy. It gives specific direction. Which is much better than taking a general plan based on dayparts and generalizing that general plan."

LESSONS

What lessons can be learned from the study? "Don't assume anything. In general, mistakes that have been made in the past are made by media planners who don't consider all their options in cable and network television. They make assumptions about where the audience is that quite often are not accurate," he said.

Mr. Cannon also suggested that a political advertiser, particularly during the final election push, should not put all his eggs in one basket.

A media maven who developed Sen. Dole's strategy, however, questioned the idea of using optimizers in political media buys. David Bienstock, president of Target Marketing, Encino, Calif., said, "Optimizer? You know what I tell my clients? I am the optimizer."

When told of the study, he replied, "I think this stuff is silly. Remember the days of reach and frequency? Before they had computers, they had a reach and frequency slide rule. They'd come into your office with this slide rule. Swear to God! And . . . that would calculate reach and frequency until someone figured out how to put the slide rule in a computer."

Was Mr. Dole mostly on the Weather Channel in the last three days before the election? "It was only a part of my cable buy," said Sheri Sadler, Target Marketing's media director. "It was in the mix. Not on network."

NO `HAIL MARY'

"When you're doing a presidential campaign, you have a finite amount you can spend," Mr. Bienstock said. "It comes from the federal government. We know to the penny what our budget is, the day we start the campaign. This sort of gives the impression that on the last three days we did a Hail Mary."

A political TV buy is not all intuition and guesswork, and often draws on data a media buyer for a consumer product wouldn't have or seek out, Mr. Bienstock said.

"You have your surveys which identify the target audience," he said. "To say that you're rifling in on a mass medium is being less than candid. All you're attempting to do is reach the largest density of your demographic with the least amount of spots and for the least amount of money. We have research data from every potential source."

"We get voters, swing votes, voters by county, by ZIP code, by cable systems," Ms. Sadler added.

"What the optimizer doesn't figure are the voting numbers," Mr. Bienstock said. "All people who do campaigns care about is `How do I reach my core voter and what's the most efficient way of reaching them?' . . . The amount of data we have available to us would eclipse any optimizer."

The Audience Analysis System was created by Mr. Cannon from an idea he developed while at General Electric Co.'s Research & Development Center. He was at the center for 10 years as automated system researcher, helping build techniques for analyzing TV programming, promotion and finance.

His new system is currently being used by a major network (because of a contractual stipulation Mr. Cannon said he is not allowed to reveal which one) to gauge the loyalty of audiences over time for particular programs, to watch trends in programming, to assess program retention and to capture the demographic profile of viewers.

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