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Ad agencies $65 million winners in election campaign

By George R. Bonner Jr.Special to The Christian Science Monitor / November 19, 1982

New York

One thing is certain about the recent off-year national election - it was a windfall for the advertising industry, especially the electronic media.

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Political analysts are putting the tab for the election and the primaries that led up to it at more than half a billion dollars - for gubernatorial races and runs for seats in the United States Senate and House of Representatives. That may be expensive for the candidates and their supporters. But it was highly profitable for advertising agencies, bringing in revenues estimated at more than

The advertising earned further millions through commissions or fees for placing political ads in local or state contests.

As always, as good chunk of political promotion dollars was spent on radio and TV in a flurry of last-minute advertising blitzes designed to push candidates over the top to victory. The question is, was this an effective use of media advertising?

Experts disagree on the answer. Many believe that while it may be difficult to prove just how effective a big burst of advertising is at the very end of the campaign, without it the candidate might just as well concede defeat.

David Garth, president of the Garth Group in New York, is a firm believer in the kind of results to be expected from applying modern marketing techniques such as research and advertising in the political arena. Mr. Garth has guided many a candidate to victory over the past 23 years. For example, he was Edward I. Koch's media man in his two successful bids for mayor of New York.

This year he watched in dismay as one of his candidates, Los Angeles Mayor Tom Bradley, lost by the slimmest of margins (0.06 percentage points) in his bid for the California governership. Conceivably, more money and more advertising would have pushed this candidate over the top.

''Money alone is certainly no guarantee of winning an election,'' Garth said. ''But it can be an enormous help. Look at Lautenberg's victory over Fenwick in New Jersey.'' (Democrat Frank Lautenberg, a wealthy but little-known New Jersey businessman, poured in millions of his own money to defeat his far better known Republican rival, Millicent Fenwick, in a race for the US Senate seat.)

''I doubt very much that voters hold it against a candidate when he has money and spends it to get elected,'' Garth reckons. ''The voting turnout was up, and in certain big city areas by substantial amounts. So political advertising can't be the turnoff some observers thought it was.''

In addition to a number of races around the country which featured campaign chests crammed to overflowing with millions of media dollars, many reporters noted a prevalence of ''negative'' spots this time. Garth indicated it would be misleading to generalize about the results of the election. But he concedes, ''In certain areas, there were a lot more of these hard-hitting and fiercely competitive TV commercials than we've seen before.''