No matter what side you fall on for Tuesday’s election you likely heard about Obama’s 30-minute prime-time special last week. I’m not interested in debating the quality or effectiveness (from a creative perspective) of the program, but rather the choice of medium. If you work in the advertising industry you’ve been hearing for awhile about the death of television as a marketing channel. Everyone loves to talk about the two-wayness of the web and how our future lies there. While I certainly agree that the web is where it’s at (I work at a company that makes stuff for brands on the internet after all), I also think TV is far from dead. I’ve argued this with many folks in the past, but there’s still a bunch of stuff that TV can do that the web can’t (or at least can’t with any efficiency). That is mostly drive awareness for reasonable sums.
Take Obama’s special, for instance, Wired calculated that Obama paid .21 cents a viewer (“The primetime show attracted more than 33 million viewers for a rumored/reported cost of somewhere between $3 million and $7 million. CBS, NBC and Fox were rumored to get a million bucks each for the half-hour of air time. Let’s assume, liberally, that Obama paid similar sums to the other networks (BET, MSNBC, TV One and Univision) — if that’s the case, he paid roughly 21 cents per viewer.”) That’s pretty freaking cheap. Sure the web can offer a better return, but that would come without the guarantees. Plus, and this is one of those things that lots of people don’t remember, only 55% of US households has broadband. As Shelly Palmer put it, “That leaves a significant amount of voters offline, including the Joe the Plumbers and Tito the Builders of the world and other people who simply haven’t adapted to modern technology. What’s the best way to reach them? It certainly isn’t by Blackberry messenger or their Facebook wall.”
Now I’m by no means arguing that TV is the be-all-and-end-all of the advertising world, just saying that it’s not throwaway. The fact is, for a lot of companies, especially those small ones, if they could afford to run some TV ads it would probably be the best way to spend their money (after all, for many the biggest obstacle they have is awareness, the thing TV is actually best at).
Update (11/3/08): I’m having a few second thoughts on this post. My big question is what was the actual objective for this? One must assume it was to a) reach swing voters and b) galvanize the base and get them to encourage others (the latter seems much less likely than the former). Still need to think on it.