McCain Campaigners Prove Masters of Advertising ROI

With All That Spending on Ads by Politicians, What's the Return on Investment for All Those Delegates?

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(AdAge.com) -- Sen. Barack Obama's campaign is winning the advertising spending contest as the Democratic presidential race heads for critical stops this week in Texas, Ohio, Rhode Island and Vermont.

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HOW MUCH DOES A DELEGATE COST?
With thousands of dollars spent on TV ads, one has to ask: What's the return on investment?

In another apparent demonstration of fundraising prowess one day last week, the Obama campaign spent $770,000 to run more than 1,700 spots, compared to Sen. Hillary Clinton campaign's $460,000 for 1,000 spots.

With all that spending on ads, one has to ask the obvious question: What's the return on investment? Of course, when all is said and done, the only ROI that matters in an election is winning. Second place doesn't count for much. But it's still an interesting experiment to take a look at how many delegates the candidates have gotten for the ad money they've spent. The chart above (click to expand) shows that in the traditional ROI sense, John McCain is getting the most bang for his buck on the GOP side, spending $9,289 to acquire each of his delegates to date. On the Democratic side, Hillary Clinton would seem to be the savvier shopper, spending 25,838 advertising dollars per delegate compared to Barack Obama, who's spent $33, 781 per delegate.

Democrats' caveats
But there are two huge caveats to consider on the Democratic side. First, these figures only take into account ad dollars and not total campaign spending (up-to-date figures aren't available). It's not hard to imagine that Mark Penn's fees alone will drive Hillary's numbers up. And the biggest caveat, of course, is that Barack Obama might be spending more, but he's also winning at this point.

Evan Tracey, who tracks the spending for TNSMI's Campaign Media Analysis Group, reported last week that the Obama campaign's ad spending was towering over the Clinton campaign's in every single market he's seen.

Early last week the Clinton campaign had spent $1.3 million in Ohio and $3.3 million in Texas for a total of $4.6 million in the first two weeks of the three-week run towards the March 4 primary.

Meanwhile the Obama campaign had spent $2.4 million in Ohio and $5.6 million in Texas, a total of $8 million.

The latest spending puts the primary campaign on track to exceed $200 million in advertising compared to $64.5 million four years ago when only Democrats had a primary race.

'Informational' campaign
The Republican National Committee last week declined to say if it would launch immediate ads if the Democratic winner became apparent this week. There have been indications that GOP groups would push for contributions to fund an "informational" campaign after the Democratic candidate was selected.

TV station managers say the spending was a pleasant surprise. Ohio traditionally has been the beneficiary of major spending in the presidential contests in recent years, but only in the fall. Texas, President Bush's home state, hasn't received as much. Political observers and station managers said they had expected the presidential selection to be wrapped up before either state voted.

"It came at us unexpectedly," said Mark Lyles, an account executive at KHOU-TV, Houston's CBS station. "It's hard not to watch the station and not to realize there is an election."

Steve Mauldin, general manager of KTVT-TV, the CBS station in Dallas/Fort Worth and KTXA-TV, an independent station, said the political campaign has brought $4 million in ad dollars into the market and that former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee had also taken out some ads.

"It's welcome money," he said. He said the ad dollars are turning out to be additional dollars rather than replacement dollars. "The Texas economy hasn't been hurt as badly."
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