Political Ad-itudes

Women pay more attention to campaign spots than men do, says Initiative Media/CNN study

When it comes to political spots on TV, women are getting the message more than men. That's part of the findings of a new series of studies by giant ad buyer Initiative Media and CNN.

The AdV.O.T.E study aims to track viewer attitudes toward political commercials throughout the campaign, with keen interest in how they change as the tone gets more intense and—doubtlessly—nastier.

Initiative Executive Vice President Stacey Lynn Koerner says the firm doesn't buy for any campaigns but wants to study attitudes toward campaign commercials in part because some consumer-product clients like their spots to air near political ads. Also, some pharmaceutical and insurance clients want to avoid them.

"Are they getting it? Are they annoyed by it?" she asks. "The bottom line is that it's not a one-size-fits-all issue: Different people are receiving these messages in different ways."

As for CNN, the network is interested because it is suddenly getting significant campaign money for the first time. Presidential candidates have typically advertised primarily in specific key states. "In years past, it's always been a spot strategy," says CNN Sales and Marketing COO Greg D'Alba. "We're seeing several million dollars so far. I know all the news networks are doing well here."

Fox News also acknowledges that the network is getting at least as much money, from both the Bush and Kerry campaigns.

Initiative and CNN surveyed 750 voters in June and expects to conduct two more waves by fall. At the same time, AdV.O.T.E will solicit separate groups of viewers via the Internet, where they can watch specific commercials.

Among the findings:

  • The good news for campaigns is that ads aren't being ignored. Initiative says 57% of viewers surveyed say they perk up when a political ad comes on the screen, suddenly listen up or discuss commercials with someone else in the room. Democrats pay a little more attention than Republicans (63% versus 58%), but independents pay the least (49%). Women say they're more attentive than men (44% versus 36%).
  • In general, consumers don't have strong feelings toward political advertising one way or another. But a person's politics changes that. When asked to relate their overall feelings of political advertising on a scale of 1-10 (10 being "extremely positive"), viewers gave an overall rating of a 4.8—about in the middle. But Bush supporters had a much more favorable attitude (5.4) than either Kerry supporters (4.6) or Undecideds (4.3).
  • Men have a much harsher view of political ads than women do. About 45% of women interviewed said politicians make their positions clear in ads, but only 14% of men said so. And men felt more negative about the tone of presidential ads (37% versus 25%).
  • Younger viewers respond to ads much differently than older folks. This group takes a broader view of the world and are drawn more to ads that focus on optimism, such as messages about improving the future. Older viewers concentrate more on "what's in it for me?" They respond more actively to messages about specific issues important to them.


Politics, Media and Money

What do Dennis Hopper, Comcast executives, Kirk Kerkorian and Geraldine Laybourne have in common? They're all eagerly writing checks to their favorite candidates in the most money-saturated presidential campaign ever