“The luminous screen in the home carries fantastic authority. Viewers everywhere tend to accept it as a window on the world…. It has tended to displace or overwhelm other influences such as newspapers, school, church, grandpa, grandma. It has become the definer and transmitter of society’s values.”
– Erik Barnouw, Columbia University, historian
The late Mr. Barnouw was a historian of mass media and is renowned for his 1966 masterpiece, “The Image Empire: A History of Broadcasting in the United States.”
One wonders what he would say about the state of political advertising today.
Is it even possible to win a federal or statewide race these days without advertising on TV?
Doug Mastriano might be trying to find out.
The Republican candidate for governor in Pennsylvania has yet to be on the airwaves in the Commonwealth. In fact, his last commercial ran on May 16 – the day prior to the state’s primary.
And according to those who track such things, the campaign has not reserved any air time over the next 60 days … the final run-up to the general election.
In comparison, Democratic opponent Josh Shapiro has allocated nearly $29 million to broadcast and cable advertising between April and November, according to AdImpact. The Attorney General has earmarked $4.4 million for September, north of $5 million in October, and close out the week before the November 8 vote with $1.5 million in time.
Not surprisingly, the Mastriano campaign did not have a comment about the disparities or future plans to advertise on TV.
Shapiro began the general campaign with an overwhelming advantage in funds with nearly $13.5 million in the bank to just a shade under $1 million for Mastriano, the state senator from Franklin County.
For the week of September 12-19, for example, Shapiro’s campaign has bought nearly $170,000 of time on WPVI-TV (6abc) – Philadelphia’s top-rated local newscast – that’s 84 spots. Included in that total is a 30-second ad during the Eagles’ Monday Night game against the Vikings. Cost: $50,000.
“There’s been no indication he’s raised enough money, especially in southeastern Pennsylvania, where it’s expensive to run television,” said Jim Schultz, a Philadelphia attorney who served as general counsel to former GOP Gov. Tom Corbett and has endorsed Shapiro. “I think the lack of support for Mastriano is unprecedented and warranted.”
During his run to victory in the primary, Mastriano spent less than $500,000 on media advertising on cable TV and radio. It did not hurt the campaign, nor did the endorsement from former President Donald Trump, and ended in a 24-point victory.
But in a statewide general election, candidates must find a way to get their message to the masses and typically that is accomplished through advertising in PA’s six media markets – Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Harrisburg-Lancaster-York, Erie, Altoona-Johnstown, and Scranton-Wilkes-Barre. Those in the corners of the Commonwealth are also covered by stations in Buffalo, New York City, Baltimore and Washington.
“As far as precedent goes, I can’t think of anything that comes close to this situation – a major party candidate in a tight race with literally $0 of candidate TV spend to show in the general, even post Labor Day,” said Chris Sebastian, a senior data analyst with Kantar, a consulting company that also tracks advertising. “To be blunt, I can’t really imagine a world in which Mastriano’s campaign catches up, so to speak.”