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Campaigns to Compete for Ads During Olympic Games

Oli Scarff/Getty Images
The Summer Olympics coincide with each presidential election, but the timing of the 2012 London Games provides an opportune time for campaigns to reach a broad viewership.

On the surface, it may appear that the Obama campaign will be wasting money by airing ads in noncompetitive states, but at least one GOP media consultant disagrees.

“By the time you buy Pennsylvania, Florida, Ohio and North Carolina, it’s almost more efficient to cover the nation,” according to one Republican media consultant.

The strategist also explained that buying directly through NBC can often lead to better ad placements and better cable penetration. “Local is not leftover, but it’s often less desirable,” the source added.

According to media trackers, Restore Our Future chose to negotiate with individual stations in specific markets, but a spokesperson for the group declined to discuss the strategy behind the tactic.

Neither strategy will let the campaigns choose specific, marquee events, such as women’s gymnastics, men’s basketball or anytime Michael Phelps is in the pool, but according to sources, a national buy often includes those top-ratings events as well as “filler events” with fewer viewers.

Of course, for the presidential campaigns, the Olympic buys are just part of a larger media strategy that includes airing other ads on non-NBC channels.

The large Olympic viewership is appealing to Congressional campaigns as well, but the entry fee and timing make it unlikely that most downballot candidates will enter the fray.

Candidates could aim for cheaper ad placements on the cable Olympic coverage. But rather than spending a small fortune to get one ad during the women’s
10-meter air pistol competition, party strategists will likely advise their candidates to “stick to their plans,” which include marshaling their resources until after Labor Day, when more voters are paying attention to politics. Candidates typically budget their ad campaigns by starting from Election Day and working backward through the calendar until the campaign runs out of money.

Some candidates don’t have the luxury of avoiding the Olympics because of their primaries.

The high-profile GOP runoff in the Texas Senate race between Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst and former state Solicitor General Ted Cruz is July 31, and competitive primaries in Tennessee, Michigan, Missouri, Washington and Hawaii all fall in the middle of the Olympic action.

Voters will also go to the polls in Connecticut, Florida, Minnesota and Wisconsin on Aug. 14, just two days after the closing ceremony.

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