Recalling TV Political Spots Before the Era of SuperPacs and Carpet Bombing

February 6, 2012

In the course of consolidating and cleaning out political archives over the weekend ( an ongoing mission), we stumbled onto a yellowed clipping from the Austin American-Statesman reporting on our remarks at a University of Texas political forum following  Texas Governor John Connally’s unsuccessful campaign for the Republican nomination back in 1980.

Back in that dark age, we made the bold statement that television advertising–and specifically TV spots, was becoming a critical factor in winning campaign.  Hello.  But that was thirty years  ahead of the recent carpet bombing of the voters of South Carolina by candidates Mitt Romney, Newt Gingrich and lesser funded candidates.  Connally was a pioneer in the strategic utilization of television, going  all the way back to his original campaign for Texas governor in 1962.  In that  race, we conceived a campaign that employed five-minute messages in the morning Today Show (where  affiliates today do local news cutaways). That series was widely credited with familiarizing voters with Connally, his family and his views, and helped him win election. We had hoped to use the same technique in the presidential race.  Unfortunately, TV stations declined to clear and sell five minute segments to us. And in the UT forum, we lamented that their decision was a significant factor in Connally’s loss. (The household name of Reagan was a more significant factor. )

Quaint footnote to that campaign: Before anyone ever heard of PACS, Super PACs and today”s obscene expenditures, Connally declined matching federal funds and was the leading fundraiser in the race, amassing a-then-remarkable  $12 million from individual contributors, pocket change in today’s  political world.  Needless to say, the cost of  TV has gone up through the years.  A 30-second spot in yesterday’s Super Bowl fetched $3.5 milllion.  The most we paid back in 1962 for a five minute spot in the Today Show on Fort Worth’s NBC Channel 5 was $50.

–Julian Read

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