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Election 2012
5:03 pm
Tue October 25, 2011

The GOP Campaign Ad Wars, As Seen On YouTube

Originally published on Tue October 25, 2011 9:29 pm

This year, the Republican candidates have a different approach to the media. One thing that's changed: Television advertising is starting later than usual.

"It's not as though they're not making ads," says Robert Thompson, a professor of television and popular culture at Syracuse University. "It's just that so far we have not seen nearly as many of them on our TV sets."

But if voters aren't seeing ads on TV, they can see them on their computers. Web ads are easy to find — mostly, they're mashups of the candidates' comments from the debates, which have been the main event of the Republican race for the past two months.

In one ad, Rick Perry attacks Mitt Romney using his opponent's own words. "There are a lot of reasons not to elect me," Romney says in a clip from the ad.

And in his own ad, Romney takes aim at Perry's poor performance in the debates, showing the Texas governor stumbling over his words.

These Web ads won't get a guaranteed number of viewers the way television ads used to. But Thompson says they are useful for other reasons.

"It brings a lot of people who are already supporters to the site. They watch this stuff — hopefully they make contributions," he says. "If you put something up that gets a lot of attention, eventually those things get picked up by CNN and Fox News and MSNBC."

And that's free media. According to Andrew Rasiej, the founder of Personal Democracy Media — a website focused on how technology is changing politics — all advertising, along with outreach through social media like Facebook and Twitter, is being used by the candidates to build a community of supporters. Romney has been at it longer than Perry, Rasiej says, but that can change.

"Rick Perry may not be as effective as Romney at the moment," he says, "but over time, he will be more and more effective, because over several weeks and [as] television ads start to hit the airwaves, it draws more people to the Web, more people to sign up, more people to talk to each other, and eventually a community is formed."

And those communities built with the new tools of social media are guaranteed to be much bigger than they were four years ago, when there were 1.5 billion views of online videos that mentioned Obama or McCain in the title.

"So here we are three years later, and not only is there more bandwidth, there's much more comfort in the public and the use of technology," Rasiej says. "We are in [an] era of political news media on steroids. It's actually how those candidates use technology to get their message out and how their supporters leverage it in order to be able to spread it and to create traction for them that generates money and, in a virtuous circle, that gets people to the polls."

Take Herman Cain, who recently put up a series of quirky videos, including one starring his campaign manager, Mark Block.

"We've run a campaign like nobody's ever seen," Block says in the ad. "But then, America's never seen a candidate like Herman Cain. We need you to get involved, because together we can do this. We can take this country back."

Then Block takes a long drag on a cigarette and blows smoke directly at the camera — yep, cigarette smoke — which fades to the smiling face of Herman Cain. A little weird, but then again, Cain is leading the Republican pack. A CBS/New York Times survey released Tuesday shows Cain with 25 percent, Romney with 21 percent, and "undecided" coming in third.

Copyright 2013 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:

Governor Perry's speech was just part of his effort to climb out of single digits in the polls. He also notified Iowa television stations that he'll soon begin placing ads. GOP candidates have debated. They have given speeches and traipsed to the usual diners and coffee shops, but the ad wars have been relatively slow to start. More on that from NPR's Mara Liasson.

MARA LIASSON, BYLINE: This year, the Republican candidates have a different approach to the media. One thing that's changed: television advertising is starting later than usual.

ROBERT THOMPSON: It's not as though they're not making ads. It's just that, so far, we have not seen nearly as many of them on our TV sets.

LIASSON: That's Robert Thompson, professor of television and popular culture at Syracuse University. If voters aren't seeing ads on TV, they can see them on their computers. Web ads are easy to find. Mostly, they're mash-ups of the candidates' comments from the debates, which have been the main event of the Republican race for the last two months. Here's Rick Perry's ad attacking Mitt Romney with his own words.

(SOUNDBITE OF RICK PERRY'S CAMPAIGN AD)

MITT ROMNEY: I'm running for office, for Pete's sake. I can't have illegals.

RICK SANTORUM: You just don't have credibility, Mitt.

NEWT GINGRICH: What you said to this audience just now plain wasn't true.

GOV. RICK PERRY: ...the height of hypocrisy.

ROMNEY: There are a lot of reasons not to elect me.

LIASSON: And here's Romney's Web video attacking Perry.

(SOUNDBITE OF MITT ROMNEY'S CAMPAIGN AD)

PERRY: It's not whether or not we're going to have this policy or that policy. We don't need any plan.

BRIT HUME: Perry really did throw up all over himself in the debate.

PERRY: But the fact is, Americans understand faith.

CAROL COSTELLO: Rick Perry plunging in the polls, rolling the dice.

LIASSON: These Web ads won't get a guaranteed number of viewers the way TV ads used to, but, Thompson says, they are useful for another reason.

THOMPSON: It brings a lot of people, who are already supporters, to the site. They watch this stuff. Hopefully, they make contributions. If you put something up that gets a lot of attention, eventually those things get picked up by CNN and Fox News and MSNBC.

LIASSON: And that's free media. According to Andrew Rasiej, the founder of Personal Democracy Media - a website focused on how technology is changing politics - all advertising, along with outreach through social media like Facebook and Twitter, are being used by the candidates to build a community of supporters. Romney has been at it longer than Perry, Rasiej says, but that can change.

ANDREW RASIEJ: Rick Perry may not be as effective as Romney at the moment, but, over time, he will be more and more effective because over several weeks, and as television ads start to hit the airwaves, it draws more people to the Web, more people to sign up, more people to talk to each other, and eventually a community is formed.

LIASSON: And those communities, built with the new tools of social media, are guaranteed to be much bigger than they were four years ago, when there were 1.5 billion views of online video that mentioned Obama or McCain in the title.

RASIEJ: So here we are three years later, and not only is there more bandwidth, there's much more comfort in the public and the use of technology. We are in an era of political news media on steroids. It's actually how those candidates use technology to get their message out and how their supporters leverage it to be able to spread it and to be able to create traction for them that generates money and, in that virtuous circle, that gets people to the polls.

LIASSON: Take Herman Cain, who recently put up a series of quirky videos, including this one starring his campaign manager Mark Block.

(SOUNDBITE OF HERMAN CAIN'S CAMPAIGN AD)

MARK BLOCK: We've run a campaign like nobody's ever seen, but then America's never seen a candidate like Herman Cain. We need you to get involved because, together, we can do this. We can take this country back.

LIASSON: Then Block takes a long drag on a cigarette and blows smoke directly at the camera - yup, cigarette smoke - which fades to the smiling face of Herman Cain. A little weird, but then again, Cain is leading the Republican pack. A CBS-New York Times survey released today shows Cain with 25 percent, Romney with 21 and undecided coming in third. Mara Liasson, NPR News, the White House. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.