Obama spreads fundraising surplus countrywide

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The presidential candidates' TV advertising strategies are departing from their traditional focus on the battleground states to a truly national approach.

Millions of dollars are still being spent to sway independent and undecided voters in such states as Florida, Ohio, Virginia and Pennsylvania that could go either way. But millions more are going to the broadcast networks despite the higher costs of national-reach blurbs.

The game-changer has been the decision by Barack Obama's campaign to opt out of public financing and the massive amounts it has raised -- $150 million in September alone.

Tobe Berkovitz, an associate dean and advertising professor at Boston University, doesn't see Obama having to make the customary budgetary choices among TV, radio or direct response.

"Usually, you've got all these options and a limited amount of the pie," Berkovitz said. "Obama has the entire pie factory. Strategically, Obama can do it all."

The Obama campaign raised the stakes during the summer, when it ponied up $4 million for 30-second spots during NBC's Summer Olympics telecasts. It was the first time since 1996 that any presidential spots had run on broadcast TV. That was immediately answered by the McCain campaign, which spent $5 million on its own ads.

Since then, Obama has outspent McCain not only in battleground states but also on the national airwaves. Obama, for example, was for a time all alone running campaign ads in the crucial state of Florida.

Spending further increased with a half-hour time buy Wednesday on CBS, NBC and Fox, where Obama will talk to the nation six days before Election Day. It's the first time buy since 1992, when Ross Perot purchased a series of 30-minute blocks.

Conventional wisdom would have it that Obama would want to address the uncommitted and independents in battleground states that could go blue Nov. 4. That's where the bulk of the money is spent, not only for Obama but also for McCain.

But Aaron Cohen, chief media negotiator at New York-based ad buyer Horizon Media, thinks the national buys make sense given the campaign being flush with cash.

"It would be hard to spend that kind of money on a purely local level," he said. "The national buy works to reinforce the blue states without having to spend local money."

Mark McKinnon, a former Bush and McCain campaign strategist who is vice chairman of Public Strategies, said the Bush campaign employed a national cable strategy.

"We found it to be very effective because even though it reached voters who weren't in target states, it energized supporters and enhanced our fundraising," he said. "It is clearly having the same effect for Obama with greater reach through a national broadcast campaign."

The McCain campaign has tried, even with limited funding, to go head-to-head with Obama. While it spent more on the Olympics than Obama, it hasn't yet jumped in with the $3 million-$4 million for a four-network time buy that it would need.

But McKinnon doesn't think that in presidential campaigns there's much ROI for TV ads.

"Ads contribute to the overall narrative of the campaign and can be used effectively as a tactical tool to shape press coverage," he said. "But overall, a lot of money is wasted."
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