Call a spade a spade

This is a spade. There's no reason to call it anything else. The person you're running against also has a name.   <a style=

Here’s a scenario we run into all too often in political campaigns:

It’s time to start developing a contrast or negative ad or mailer. We send around a draft and the response comes back: “we don’t want to mention our opponent’s name and/or show his picture.”

This is always the wrong decision. Always.

We have yet to see a situation where it’s the right call when a campaign says it wants to do contrast or negative messaging without mentioning the name of the person they’re contrasting with or attacking.

Don’t pussyfoot around when you go on the attack. There’s no upside to doing so.

Understand why you are attacking

When you start contrast or negative messaging, you do it for one reason. To make the person you’re running against unacceptable to voters.

To do that, you have to attach that negative impression to a specific identity. That requires the usage of your opponent’s name and image*.

When a voter goes to cast their vote, you want them to see your opponent’s name and have the name trigger them to recall the negative theme you messaged. That can’t happen if you haven’t clearly and prominently used the opponent’s identity in your messaging.

Dispelling the “I don’t want to give my opponent free name ID” myth

The biggest objection we hear from clients to using the opponent’s name or face is that they don’t want to pay to give “free” name ID to the opponent.

That objection is probably rooted in the old adage that “bad publicity is better than no publicity.” If your contrast or negative messaging is done effectively, you will definitely prove the adage to be very wrong,

The “free” name ID you’re “giving” your opponent isn’t doing him any favors. If the reason a voter can recall your opponent’s name is because your messaging made them dislike your opponent, that’s pretty good in our book.

Still unsure?

Here are two people with high name ID: Mother Teresa and Adolf Hitler.

Pretty much everyone knows who Mother Teresa is. No one has really heard anything bad about her. Everything related to her name ID is positive.

Pretty much everyone knows who Adolf Hitler is too. People born decades after his death immediately associate him with evil at the mention of his name based on all of the negative information used to discuss him.  History books, movies and the like all give Hitler name ID. That name ID wouldn’t be very helpful were he on a ballot somewhere, would it?

People have to know what you’re talking about

The other reason you need to explicitly mention and show your opponent is because if you don’t, the electorate may have no clue who you’re talking about.

Never lose sight of the fact that the electorate is nowhere near as tuned in to the nuances of your race as you are. The farther down the ballot your election is, the less information voters have retained about the race. If you don’t explicitly make the connection between the negative information you are presenting and the person you are presenting it about, voters may not make the connection on their own.

Also, if you don’t explicitly identify who it is you are going after, it makes the whole attack less credible. People wonder why you aren’t mentioning who you’re talking about and wonder what you’re really trying to avoid saaying. That makes them wonder what your angle is, making them skeptical about everything you are presenting in the communication**.

So if you’re going to contrast or go negative, don’t pull punches. Call out your opponent by name, show their face alongside the negative information and call a spade a spade.


*Obviously radio is the exception to the use of the opponent’s image rule. Some small on-line ads also may not have enough real estate to use the opponent’s image.

**This holds true in more than just name ID. We recently saw commercials from two campaigns attacking the opponent for associating with a “radical group” without ever explicitly saying who the group was. Many voters will hear that and immediately wonder why the group wasn’t mentioned, and assume it was because an explicit mention of the group would undermine the spin of the ad. That makes the voter skeptical about everything in the ad and undercuts the effectiveness of the message.

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No one remembers Shecky Greene

There once was a top thoroughbred racehorse named Shecky Greene*. You probably haven’t heard of him. The story of Shecky Greene’s last–and most famous–race is a cautionary tale if you’re running a political campaign.

Shecky Greene was entered to run in the 1973 Kentucky Derby. He went off at about 6:1 odds in the field of 13.


We couldn’t find a picture of Shecky Greene. No one keeps pictures of the losers. This is the horse that beat him that evening in May, 1973.

The horses were loaded in the gate, the bell rang and they were off. Out of the gate, Shecky Greene set a wicked pace and was in the lead after seven furlongs.

Far behind Shecky Greene, was another horse. You might have heard of him. His name was Secretariat.

You probably know how this story ends.

Secretariat set (and still holds) the record for fastest Kentucky Derby ever. Astonishingly, Secretariat ran each quarter of the race faster than the one before. He was accelerating from start to finish rather than tiring out at the end like most thoroughbreds do.

Shecky Greene? He finished in 6th place and never raced again.

They made Hollywood movies about Secretariat. No one remembers Shecky Greene even though Shecky Greene was the one out of the gate and leading the race early on.

Don’t run your race like Shecky Greene ran his

Over the years we’ve seen too many campaign run like Shecky Greene ran the Kentucky Derby. Most of them aren’t remembered either.

Shecky Greene campaigns put a premium on communicating early because they want to be on TV or in the mailbox first. They mistakenly believe that there’s persuasive value in beating their opponent to making “first contact” with the voter.

The problem is that campaigns that tend to fret about this stuff almost never have the resources to maintain continued continuation through Election Day. That early start ends up being one of the things that kills them off later on.

They end up mailing too early without the funds to continue to mail without an extended break between drops. Or they go on TV but are forced to go “dark” for extended periods later on because cash runs short.

It’s pointless. On Election Day, no voter remembers which candidate they heard from first–especially if those communications came when no one was paying attention to the race. But they remember what they see and hear in the final days before the election. That’s what’s top of mind.

Understand how voters process your communications

Voters (if they’re honest) will tell you they’re really not that interested in or focused on most of your ads and mailers.

They’re picking up dribs and drabs of your message that catch their ear and/or eye as they are half-paying attention. They retain that information for a very limited amount of time if it isn’t reinforced with continued frequent contact.

That means an early start for the sake of being out there first isn’t only a waste of time. It can actually undermine your ability to win if you cannot sustain your communications pace to the end. Voters quickly forget everything you told them.

In horse racing, horses that run like that are called faders. They’re often terrible bets because they lose a lot. Faders in political campaigns tend to lose a lot too.

When should you start your mass messaging efforts? Start as soon as you feel confident you have the resources to continue to message consistently through Election Day without a significant break in the action. Don’t start your sprint if you cannot maintain it to the finish line.

Better to let the other side have the jackrabbit start and tire out, while you close strong. You have to be the best jockey you can be for the resources you have.

Otherwise people will only remember as much about your campaign as they remember about a horse named Shecky Greene that won the first seven furlongs of a race held at Churchill Downs on May 5, 1973.


*Yes, there is a comedian named Shecky Greene too that almost no one remembers. That’s a different story.

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The myths and reality of the political mailing red tag

If your campaign is sending out bulk campaign mailings, you’re going to hear about—andneed to understand—political red tags*.

There’s a lot of misinformation out there about red tags in terms of how they impact the speed and quality of your mail service. This often leads to unrealistic expectations over how the post office will handle red-tagged mailings.

This week, we’ll give you a quick primer on the red tag: what it is, why it’s used, and how your campaign benefits from it, while also clearing up a common misconception.

What is a “red tag” anyway?


Understanding how the political red tag (officially known as “Tag 57, Political Campaign Mailing”) works will make your campaign direct mail efforts go more smoothly.

If you’re new to political campaigns you may not realize that every political bulk mailing is allowed to have a political red tag attached to each one of the letter trays or sacks of mail being entered into the bulk mail system.

If you’re using a professional mailshop to prepare your mail, they’ll take care of obtaining and attaching the red tags. If your campaign is preparing bulk mailings in-house, you obtain the tags from the bulk mail unit of your post office. There’s no charge for the tags.

In 2012, the Postal Service expanded which mailers are eligible to use red tags for campaign-related mailings. The tag may now be used by any of the following groups when sending mail related to an election, issue advocacy or voter mobilization:

  • Candidate Committees
  • Party Committees
  • Political Action Committees
  • Super PACs
  • Non-Profits
  • Corporations
  • Business leagues and social welfare organizations


How the red tag impacts your mailing

Postal workers often view red-tagged mail as a hot potato because when it gets screwed up while in their hands, it means a screaming politician–possibly even one that can impact postal operations or jobs. 

No one wants to be holding a red-tagged mailing when a supervisor comes looking for it because a politician is yelling about their mail not hitting. That’s one (unofficial) reason the Postal Service makes an effort to expedite mail with red tags.

The red tag makes your sacks and trays of mail more visible in the postal stream. Postal workers are likely to bump red-tagged mail to the front of the line for processing in standard mail plants and postal units 

The Postal Service also logs each red tag mailing when it enters their facility and when it leaves it to go to another facility. This helps them track down mailings that have gotten hung up in the process, or worse, misdirected to the wrong post offices. In our experience, this logging doesn’t happen as consistently as one might hope, but is helpful when done.

The red tag is removed by Postal Service employees when the tray of mail is put into the processing equipment or the sack of mail is opened for handling. At that point in the postal stream it is generally fairly close to its final stop and is being blended into the larger mail stream for carrier-level sorting.

Red tags do not guarantee first-class service

Finally, let’s bust one myth that we always hear during political mail season–that red-tagged mail is handled as first class mail. That’s not really true.

First, understand that there is absolutely no guarantee on how fast the Postal Service will deliver your bulk mailings.

The best you get is what USPS calls a service standard. This is their goal for how long itshould take something to be delivered depending on where it’s deposited, where it’s going and what class of service is paid for. You can see all of the different service standards here.

If you’re sending standard mail with red tags and entering it into the regional bulk mail facility (known as a Sectional Center Facility or SCF) that directly serves the zip codes your mail is ultimately going to, it may be in homes the next day. It may also hit in 3 or more days. It’s not a precise process.

That said, we are aware of numerous instances where the Postal Service has actually handled political mail like first class mail in the days leading up to an election. Like we said before, they see it as a hot potato and don’t want to have it in their hands on Election Day.

But understand that USPS has no obligation to provide first class service for red-tagged mail. If you’re paying standard mail rates, you shouldn’t depend on first-class service as you plan your mail schedule.  

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You talkin’ to me?

When you talk to your audience in your ads, direct mail, emails and social media posts, do you actually talk to your audience?

This may sound like a simple question. Almost a stupid one. But too many communications efforts get it wrong. We don’t want your communications to get it cialis generique wrong too.

Everyone in your audience wants you to answer the same question

Your audience approaches every unsolicited communication with one simple question:

“What’s in it for me?”

 Your audience could care less that you have something you want to tell them. Your ads, mailers and other efforts to communicate to them and persuade them are an interruption of something they are doing.

Think about it for a minute.

    • That TV ad you’re running? It’s interrupting the show they want to watch.
    • That pre-roll you have on YouTube? It’s keeping them from watching the funny kitten video their friend sent them.
    • That mailer? One more thing to sort while going through a stack of mail that’s likely to contain absolutely nothing they want.


If you want to interrupt your audience and get them to pay attention to what you have to say, you better be talking to them about something they care about.

That means not using your ad to blather on about yourself. The audience could care less. They don’t want to hear your life story. That’s about you, not them.

Your audience wants to how whatever it is you’re offering will benefit them. They want to know what’s in it for them to take the action you’re asking them to take–whether it’s casting a vote, making a call, sending an email or purchasing your product.

Your communications need to address the audience’s concerns

Ultimately, what’s “in it” for your audience to stop what they are doing and pay attention to your communication is that you present a credible solution to a concern they have. You are talking to them about what they care about.

When it comes to voters in political campaigns, most want to know how you’re going to credibly answer one or more questions like these:

    • How are you going to help me find work or keep the job I have?
    • How are you going to help me have a secure retirement?
    • How are you going to help me and my family afford healthcare when we’re sick?
    • How are you going to make sure my kids get a great education at their local school?
    • How are you going to help make college more affordable so I don’t go broke paying for it and so my kid doesn’t come out with a pile of loans.
    • How are you going to protect my rights, freedoms and values?
    • How are you going to help me buy and hold onto a home?
    • Why are you a better choice than your opponent to help me with these issues I care about?


Answering those questions with credible solutions will grab your audience’s attention. Instead of just another ad that interrupts them, you’re talking to them about what they care about. Instead of being an intrusion, you’ve become a solution.

So before you approve your next ad, send your next mailer or make your next post on social media, make sure what you’re saying addresses something your audience cares about instead of simply talking about yourself.

If you do, you’ll be winning hearts and minds that will take the action you seek. And that’s why you’re advertising in the first place, isn’t it?

Want to receive these posts in your e-mail every Friday? Just sign up for the free Pound, Feinstein & Associates newsletter. There is a sign-up form at the bottom of every page on this website. We will never share your email with anyone and we will not send you anything other than these posts once a week.

Keep your message from drowning in a sea of ads

Every year, we get asked the same question by many of our clients:

How do I get my ads and mailers to ‘cut through the clutter?’

The clutter–all of the other ads and messages that people see throughout the day that are competing with your communications for attention–is a very real concern. How you handle it will determine the success or failure of your campaign.

Your message faces intense competition in a sea of ads

Want to know what your ad or mailer is up against once you approve it? Check out some of these statistics. They’re

No life preserver is going to keep your message from drowning in a sea of ads. You need repetition, good timing and a message that interests your target to help your message stay afloat.

No life preserver is going to keep your message from drowning in a sea of ads. You need repetition, good timing and a message that interests your target to help your message stay afloat.


  • Various studies say that consumers see between 250 and 5,000 advertising messages a day, depending on the methodology used. There’s no consensus on what the “right” number is, but even if it’s ”only” 250 a day, that’s a lot of messages to compete against. That makes your message the proverbial needle in the haystack.


  • According to the Advertising Research Foundation, the ability of people to remember an ad they had seen just 24 hours before is worse than ever. Remember most of the ads, mailers and other marketing messages you encountered yesterday? Didn’t think so.


  • The sheer number of ads continues to grow. The number of TV ads run per hour has doubled since the ’60s. An hour of radio is often 15%-20% advertising. More space is being given over to ads on major websites. Even the volume of political mail has continued to rise.


As you can see, the competition for the attention of your target is brutal. But you can win. We’ll be covering a lot of specific ideas and techniques in the coming weeks, but here are some initial things to think about.

Give your ad enough repetition to get awareness

TV, radio and online ads begin to cut through the clutter when people start seeing them over and over. Each viewing/listening builds on the previous ones.

Your audience probably won’t remember your ad the first time they encounter it, but by the fifth time, the target audience is developing awareness of your message. At the tenth or twelfth viewing or listening, it’s burning in and the audience is starting to retain what you have to say.

With mail the same concept holds–with a twist. While TV and radio are running the same spot repeatedly for a period of time, you don’t want to send out the exact same mailer over and over. Instead, with mail you want to keep hitting the same themes and messages in mailer after mailer while making each mailer different to build that repetition so the target retains the information.

Advertise when you need people to pay attention

Campaigns routinely come to us with the idea of advertising or mailing months before the election as a way to avoid the avalanche of political messages in the run-up to an election. It’s almost always a terrible idea.

Remember what we said earlier. The ability of people to retain messages they saw just 24 hours earlier is lousy.

If you drop a piece of mail or two in August and then don’t mail again until October, by the time you do the October mailings, the audience has long since forgotten that they ever heard from you in August. The money spent on that August mail was wasted.

Don’t start advertising until your fundraising can sustain it on a continuous basis until the election–even if it means your opponent starts advertising first.

Good fundraising can get your advertising started Labor Day or before, especially for statewide and congressional races. For races with a more limited budget, that may mean waiting until the last week or two of the election to begin your messaging. But that’s the choice that makes sense if you need voters to recall your campaign when they go to vote.

Make sure your message commands attention

With between 250 and 5,000 messages a day being presented to your target, you ad has to be pretty impressive to command their attention. As you work through the production of your ads and mailers, ask yourself these questions:

  • Is this ad interesting enough that it will attract the attention of a target that is focused on something else?


  • Would I pay attention to this ad if I weren’t involved in the campaign?


  • What’s in it for the target audience that’s so interesting they’re going to pay attention to my ad or mailer instead of whatever currently has their attention?


Address those questions and you will go a long way to getting your message noticed and remembered by your target audience.

Be the engineer, not the conductor, of your messaging train

If you have ever taken a passenger train, you know that there’s an engineer up front driving the train to its ultimate final destination, and a conductor in the back punching passenger tickets.*

Some campaigns and marketing efforts take a train engineer’s approach to planning their messaging. They’re plotting a message (the route, so to speak) to their final destination–winning an election.

Others think like the conductor. They get so wrapped up in the tickets they feel they need to punch communications-wise, they lose sight of the overall route.

You can’t drive the message train by punching tickets

The train conductor method is often the weaker choice when you do your communications planning.

Unsure what the conductor approach looks like? Here’s a typical way it shows up in political campaigns:

Make sure you have an engineer driving your campaign or marketing message train

Make sure you have an engineer driving your campaign or marketing message train

“OK, we’re going to do seven ads (can be mailers, TV spots or anything else). We know from our survey that the top three issues are jobs, education and taxes, so we’ll do a jobs ad, an education ad and a tax ad. We’ll then do a couple of ads hitting the opponent on stuff our polling tells us voters don’t like. We’ll have a final positive close. relevant domains . And we’ll hold one ad out to see of we need to respond to any of the attacks from the other side.”

The campaign is building a plan based on punching holes in a ticket.  They punched the education ticket with an ad. They punched the jobs ticket with an ad.

This is a terrible way to plan out a messaging/communications effort for a couple of reasons.

  • Planning this way isn’t conducive to creating a coherent overarching narrative for your campaign that voters can retain and recall. The campaign needs the voters to retain bits of information on a number of different subjects rather than latch onto an overarching theme or two. That’s a tough sell when most voters really don’t want to spend much time learning about your campaign.


  • The information in your early ads will not be retained by Election Day. If you do one ad on education and it is running four weeks before the election, few people are going to recall it or factor it into their vote decision later on if your campaign has moved on to another issue or shifted to negative ads.


By worrying about punching the individual holes, you’re ignoring the bigger picture of what overarching theme you need voters to retain and recall when they go to vote.

A good engineer can get your messaging train to its final destination

The train engineer approach is generally the better way to get your messaging train to its final destination.

In the train engineer approach you come up with 1-2 persuasive and straight-forward arguments for your campaign that you want voters to remember when they go to vote that also provides meaningful contrast with your opponent.

Every ad or mailer is woven into that overarching message and is written to provide information and evidence that substantiates the credibility of that message. Any attacks you make illustrate how the opponent unfavorably contrasts with your campaign on the basic messages and themes you’re pushing.

For example, let’s say you have a campaign where your message is “Christie Walker is going to the state capitol to fight taxes and cut the size of government.” That’s what you have determined is the most important thing you want voters to remember when they go to vote. That means everything you talk about in your ads needs to connect back to this theme.

If you have a subject/issue that polls well and you want to include it in your messaging, then you HAVE to make sure you can weave it into your overall theme because that theme is ultimately what you can expect the voter to remember.  You’re now talking about that subject to substantiate your larger theme, not to punch a ticket.

If you can’t weave it in, you have to give strong consideration to not advertising on that subject at all or adjusting your overarching theme in such a way that you can weave it in.**

By thinking about your message planning as an engineer rather than simply punching tickets with your ads like a conductor, you’re getting very strong repetition of the key persuasive theme you need voters to retain when they go to vote. That’s how elections are won and target audiences are persuaded.


* Yes, some trains also have a bar car with a bartender. Unlike the engineer and the conductor, the bartender doesn’t have a messaging metaphor other than many campaign staffers and marketers frequent the service of bartenders

in real life and may share their own story with him/her.

** We recognize there are some single-issue voters you have to message on their issue outside of a theme-gun rights advocates, pro-gun advocates, etc.-when appropriate. We will talk about how to effectively message to them in a future column. We also recognize there are times when a subject just HAS to be addressed outside of the scope of the overall theme. While this does come up, we find it is more rare than most campaigns think it is.

Direct mail is all about timing

Going into the Labor Day weekend–the traditional start of the political campaign season–is often the time campaigns start thinking about kicking their voter persuasion direct mail programs into gear. While there are numerous factors that go into building an effective voter contact mail schedule, this week we want to talk about a couple of concepts that are often misunderstood by campaigns.

Don’t mail your first piece until your budget can sustain continued messaging

One of the biggest mistakes we see campaigns make with their voter contact mail is to spread it out too far. We have campaigns ask about mailing months before the election when their whole mail budget may be only five or six pieces total.

Don’t worry about being in the mailbox first or trying to avoid “clutter.” Worry about being able to finish out the campaign

These days, people are far less excited about what this truck is bringing to their door and mailbox.

These days, people are far less excited about what this truck is bringing to their door and mailbox.

strong. No one has won a campaign solely be being the first in the mailbox–or on TV or radio first for that matter.

If mail is your primary means of communication, don’t start mailing until you reach the point in the campaign where your budget can afford mailing 2-3 times a week through Election Day.

If you mail less frequently than that, you run a serious risk that voters will not recall enough each mailing for your mail to have a meaningful impact.

Frequency matters when it comes to voters remembering and processing your mail (and your TV, radio and digital advertising too, for that matter). That repeated exposure to your mail is what causes it to sink in and have persuasive value.

Think about it like this. Chances are you can’t recall two pieces of bulk mail you received yesterday, never mind last week. Neither can voters when it comes to your mail. Unless you are in their boxes with significant frequency, your mail is a needle in a haystack of bills, bulk mail and coupons. You can’t afford to have weeks or months go cialis generique by between mailings.

We should note that this applies to campaigns that are primarily communicating by mail. If your primary means of communication is television and/or radio, you can ratchet back mail frequency.

Those other media help maintain voter awareness of your campaign when your mail is not in their hands. In those instances, you can spread your mail out a little more, especially if the message in your mail is paired with your electronic communications.

Your mail program needs to adjust to how people treat their mail

Not all that long ago, most people’s routine included getting their mail every day. While they received many of the bills and ads they get now, they were also eager to check the mail for letters, cards and other correspondence they actually looked forward to receiving. A common refrain in many homes as people returned at night was, “Did anything good come in the mail today?”

Today mail recipient behavior has changed because, quite frankly, there is rarely anything good in the mail anymore. 

As the cost of long-distance calling has become a non-factor for most people and the majority of folks gained access to near-instantaneous forms of on-line communication, letters and cards dried up. First class mail volume plummeted. Now almost every trip to get the mail produces just a discouraging stack of bills, solicitations and ads–little of which recipients really want.

With fewer reasons to look forward to the mail, people feel less urgency to collect it. Fewer households are retrieving the mail daily. Many households retreive their mail just 1-3 times a week based on postal service surveys.

This change in behavior has a dramatic impact on your direct mail communication efforts and schedules:

  • As people grab the mail less frequently, there is a larger stack for them to sort through each time they do get it. That means greater competition for the attention of the person going through the mail, as your piece competes with many others in a two or three day stack. Your mail has to work harder, be more attention-getting and more memorable than ever before. The bar for the quality of your mailings has been raised dramatically.


  • If you’re used to mailing every day, many people are likely to see more than one piece of your mail as they go through a multi-day stack. While the concern of receiving more than one piece of mail from a campaign at a time is blown way out of proportion when it happens (we’ll explain in a few weeks how it can actually work to your advantage when it happens), if you want to avoid someone getting more than one piece of mail in each stack they retrieve, you are going to need to spread out your mailings and avoid dropping daily.


So, as you build your mail schedules, make sure you have the mailing frequency you need to remain top-of-mind for your voter, while making sure to account for the brave new world of how people retrieve and sort their personal mail.

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Don’t let your TV ads get killed by time-shifting

Time-shifting. That’s the buzzword in the advertising world for watching a program at a time other than when the broadcaster aired it. It’s changing advertising as we know it.

If your campaign, marketing effort or business is buying TV ads, time-shifting is dramatically impacting when your ad is getting seen by many viewers–if it is seen at all. You need to know how it impacts you and what to do about.

The TV buying landscape today

In the not-so-distant past, with the exception of the handful of people who knew how to make their VCR clock not blink (and could therefore program their VCR to tape a favorite show), most people watched TV programs as they aired.

Digital video recorders like TiVo were at the forefront of the time-shifting revolution.

Digital video recorders like TiVo were at the forefront of the time-shifting revolution.

Today, we have a different television viewing environment and it is changing television advertising in ways no one would have imagined just a few years ago.

  • Digital video recorders like TiVo make recording a viewer’s favorite shows much easier. 40% of homes have a DVR today.


  • iN DEMAND is also helping viewers with access to the service control when they view broadcast content.


  • There’s a huge user base for content delivery services like Hulu, Amazon Plus and Netflix–and these services are developing compelling new content in addition to providing back-catalog movies and TV shows.


  • People watch marathons of their favorite shows on DVD or through on-line streaming rather than wait for the networks to dribble out episodes on a weekly basis.


More and more people are watching their content when it’s convenient to them, not the network programmers. And viewers who control when they want to view things can easily bypass–or never even see–the ads you paid a lot of money to air.

Dealing with the impact of time-shifting

Understand that as of right now, there are still a lot of viewers watching programming as it airs–but it’s down from the heyday of rabbit ears and three broadcast networks.

Some of those not time-shifting heavily are simply in demographics that tend to be less tech-savvy

or with less access to the latest technology such as older viewers and lower income viewers. Many rural viewers are also less likely to time-shift because of limited broadband access. Others just watch live because, like generations before them, they plunk down on the couch “to see what’s on’” or they have the TV on in the background.

While that represents a large chunk of viewers, there’s still more that you can do to reach live viewers. You need to look for programs that hit your demographic that “go stale” if not watched live and are not likely to be time-shifted. That includes (but are not limited to):

  • Sporting events. You have to be a diehard fan to watch a game after it’s over and probably know the outcome. Fans watch the game as it happens. If you’re advertising to a Boston audience and the Patriots are on TV, you’re going to get a ton of live eyeballs.


  • Reality TV. Like sporting events, fans of these shows want to know who gets voted off the island or fired when it happens. They want to talk about the previous evening’s episodes with friends and co-workers the next day. This keeps strong reality TV shows like Survivor appointment television for die-hard fans and reduces time-shifting.


  • News and Weather. While there’s a huge shift in how people are receiving news and current information, and TV news ratings reflect this, for those who still watch TV news, it is done almost exclusively live and unshifted. This means look at local and national broadcast news, as well as cable news that fits your demographic target.


  • Sportscasts and Sports Talk. If they fit your demographic, these shows are almost never time-shifted. The 11PM Eastern Time and the 10PM Pacific TimeSportsCenter broadcasts still do big ratings. The Sunday night SportsCenter at 11PM Eastern can do 20 million viewers live in the Fall nationally. Sports talk shows like Pardon the Interruption and Around the Horn also are generally watched live.


  • Event television. Big awards shows like the Oscars tend to be watched live by fans rather than time-shifted. During Presidential campaign years, the annual debates are also appointment television.


  • Entertainment news. Shows like Access HollywoodTMZ, and Entertainment Tonight are less likely to be time-shifted.


  • Talk shows. Because of the topical nature of these shows, they tend to be less time-shifted. Look for “Monday through Friday” shows like LIVE with Kelly and MichaelEllen, and Dr. Phil. Also make sure to look at Sunday morning shows likeMeet the Press and Fox News Sunday, as well as daily political talk on the cable news channels.


By making sure you consider the impact of time-shifting in your TV buys, you will make the money you spend on this still-strong medium go farther to deliver your message to viewers.

Five keys to an effective negative communication effort

How many pundits and consultants have you heard say that they “go negative” because it works? Almost all of them.


If you’re going to go negative, make sure you do it in a way that persuades voters.

In many cases, they are right. But the hard truth is that in many other cases the negative campaign did little to change the outcome of the race. Sometimes it even blew up the attacker.

This isn’t a screed against negative campaigning. We’re firm believers in negative campaigning. It’s a screed against bad negative campaigning–and there’s a lot of that going around.

A successful negative messaging effort has certain requirements.

      • It has to be factual. While this should go without saying, the more you have to stretch the facts or “spin” them to make the attack work, the more likely it is to blow up in the attackers face. You can use the facts to draw your own conclusions but you can’t change the facts themselves.


  • It has to be plausible. Even the most truthful attacks can sound absurd if you don’t give them rationale. Voters have an innate sense of when there is more to the story than you are telling them. When you attack someone for doing something that appears to defy common-sense, (“Hillary Biden voted to let sex offenders out of prison early”) you have to give some rationale for why someone would do it.


  • It provides new information (or a novel perspective on old information). If the vast majority of voters have top-of-mind awareness of some flaw an opponent has, telling them about it again in an attack ad or mailer is not going to change their opinion of the candidate under attack. They have already factored that information into their voting decision and your ad rehashing it (and the money you spent on it) will have almost no persuasive value.


  • It has to be relevant to the recipient. This is one of those things that seem obvious, but we never cease to be amazed at how many attacks are on subjects that the electorate as a whole just does not care about. A lot of personal attacks fall into this category. The point of attack has to connect back to a salient factor in the recipients’ decision-making. Otherwise they won’t even pay attention to it.


  • It has to actually mention/show your opponent. Too many campaigns are skittish about mentioning the opponent by name or showing their opponent. They would rather refer to the opponent as “my opponent.” That’s a huge mistake. First, you can’t count on voters to know who your opponent is, especially as you get farther down the ballot. Second, you want to tie your negative information to the opponent. When voters hear your opponent’s name or see their face later on, you want them to immediately recall your negative information. You can only do that if you present your attack with the opponent’s name and image featured prominently.


These are very broad rules of effective negative campaigning. In the coming weeks, we will delve into them individually with examples of how to do it right.