If you’ve watched television at any time during the last three months, it’s very likely you’ve seen a lot of campaign ads for the 2012 presidential election. Have you ever wondered about the history of political campaign ads? Who started them? Who produces them, and why do political candidates rely on them so heavily?
Television advertising has been a crucial marketing tool for political campaigns since the 1950’s. They allow the candidates to speak directly to important swing-state voters about their positions and emphasize their strengths. The bulk of campaign spending for both parties’ political ads is concentrated in these swing-states (as illustrated in the graph to the right from the Washington Post.) According to the New York Times, “independent groups have spent at least $154 million on television advertisements and other efforts asking voters to elect or defeat candidates” since the beginning of this year’s presidential campaign. 1 The most active of these independent groups are known as “Super PACs,” (PAC standing for Political Action Committee) which are allowed to raise unlimited funds. Democratic Super PAC “Priorities USA Action” has spent $30,017,795 compared to the $73,353,725 spent by Republican Super PAC “Restore Our Future.” 1 Based on public records, an average political ad spot can range from $2,000-13,000 per commercial.2
Over the years, spending on political advertisements has increased. In the 2008 election between Barack Obama and John McCain, for example, over $450 million was spent between April 3 and November 5, 2008.3 It seems hard to imagine, but television advertisements were not always so popular. There was a time when television was considered a passing fad and presidential ads were tame.The first presidential television ads were created in “1952, when Madison Avenue advertising executive Rosser Reeves convinced Dwight Eisenhower that short ads played during such popular TV programs as I Love Lucy would reach more voters than any other form of advertising.” 4 You can view one of these original commercial segments below, as well as more than 300 other commercials from every presidential election since then at http://www.livingroomcandidate.org/.
Ever wonder what it would be like to make your own political ad? Check out The Living Room Candidate’s interactive admaker tool ! You can actually edit your own political advertisement using their stock footage, or you can add your own footage, sounds and music.