Watch the daytime soap opera “The Young and the Restless” or the late-night talk show “Jimmy Kimmel Live” and you’re likely to see an ad for Democrat John Kerry.
Tune into the crime reality series “America’s Most Wanted” or catch a few innings of a Major League Baseball game and it’s President Bush’s face that tends to show up during the commercial breaks.
The two presidential campaigns, tapping their record-breaking accounts, have spent more than $140 million on television ads in 21 states and on national cable networks. With an eye on the swing vote, both are airing many of their spots on programs that reach viewers of any political persuasion — and placing some spots on specific shows to maximize turnout among their core supporters.
For Kerry, those are women, young voters and blacks. For Bush, they are men and older Americans.
The Associated Press analyzed the television programs on which the candidates advertised during 10 days in May. Their buying patterns are fairly typical for a presidential election expected to be close, said Evan Tracey, president of TNS/Campaign Media Analysis Group, a Virginia-based company that tracks political ads.
“You have to go after the undecideds and hope they split evenly, break toward you or don’t turn out at all,” Tracey said. “But at the end of the day, you have to turn out your voters first — and that’s what this is about.”
Political strategists use ratings data and information about each show’s audience — including income, education, occupation, ethnicity and voting habits — to choose where to run ads. They can tell whether programs skew toward Republican, Democratic or independent audiences and whether they reach a certain voter, such as men ages 35 to 55 who voted in the last year.
During the period reviewed, both campaigns aired the bulk of their commercials during local newscasts, national news programs or newsmagazines such as “20/20,” and Sunday public affairs shows such as “Meet the Press.”
Lots of overlap
Seven of the 10 top programs where most Bush and Kerry ads ran were the same: the morning network news shows “Today,” “Good Morning America,” and “The Early Show;” the highly rated talk shows “Regis and Kelly” and “Dr. Phil,” and the popular game shows “Wheel of Fortune” and “Jeopardy.”
“The first order of business is to find likely voters,” said John Denson, a Democratic buyer in Nashville, Tenn., “and people who watch the news or programs that provide information in any context are more likely to pay attention to elections.”
Beneath the news-and-information tier of TV programming, the buying patterns became much more tailored to each party.
Kerry’s ads appeared far more often than Bush’s during daytime programs watched primarily by female viewers, a key part of Kerry’s base. He ran ads on soap operas like “All My Children” and programs like “The Ellen DeGeneres Show,” as well as Democratic-leaning courtroom programs, such as “Judge Judy,” and late-afternoon talk shows, such as “Montel Williams,” which tend to be watched by blue-collar workers and unemployed.
Kerry also has worked to maximize his support among blacks, another key Democratic constituency, by advertising on UPN, a network that attracts predominantly urban ethnic audiences with sitcoms such as “The Parkers” and “Eve.” Bush was not on the network.
Aside from his base, Kerry also went after a wild-card voting group that Democrat Bill Clinton was able to corral in his wins in 1992 and 1996: younger voters.
Unlike Bush, Kerry has aired commercials on the WB, a network geared toward young people, by advertising during series like “One Tree Hill” and “Smallville,” teen-angst dramas that attract voters ages 18 to 34. Kerry also reached out through ads to viewers under age 50 who watch late-night comedy shows, like “Late Show with David Letterman,” and sitcoms, such as “The King of Queens” and “Friends.”
Outside of news and public-affairs shows, Bush ads ran little during daytime or late-night programming. Many programs during those time slots have Democratic-heavy audiences.
Instead, the president’s ads focused mostly on shows — and time slots of the prime-time and early evening — that typically attract GOP constituencies, particularly men and older Americans. Prime-time shows also attract the most viewers overall.
The Republican’s commercials ran often during crime reality shows like “Cops,” which appeal to white males, and tough-on-crime shows that tend to reach a slightly older Republican audience — prime-time dramas like “Law and Order” and “JAG.”
“It seems to me like they’re playing to base politics still,” said John McLaughlin, a Republican buyer in Alexandria, Va., who worked for Steve Forbes in 2000.
On cable networks as well as on broadcast channels, Bush dominated sports programming by directing commercials toward older men — on everything from golf to fly fishing — and younger men, the most difficult demographic to reach through TV, on ESPN’s “SportsCenter.”
Bush’s ads also were broadcast heavily during game shows, including “Family Feud” and “Hollywood Squares,” which are watched by older Americans, many of whom tend to vote Republican. Kerry was on game shows as well, but mainly to catch viewers who stick around after the evening news or turn the news on early before expensive prime-time slots.