A closer look at the lure of a big-spending advertiser
I wouldn’t put him in my Top 3 preferred candidates, but I’m fascinated with Michael Bloomberg’s presidential campaign.
I’m fascinated by it because, with my media habits, I can’t avoid it.
I turn on the TV, he’s there. When I switch on the radio after I wake up, he’s there. Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, he’s there. Display ads, yup. And so on. I can’t recall any advertiser put this much into a paid ad campaign during such a short period of time.
The Bloomberg campaign is pumping out a massive and continuous stream of videos, messages, memes, and other bits of content. And they’re placing them everywhere. Aspirational messages about leadership and a get-‘er-done philosophy get interspersed with little tactics like snarky billboards in Vegas saying things like, “Donald Trump cheats at golf.”
Through sheer reach and frequency (remember those?) all this spending has propelled a late entry into the top tier of candidates, nationwide. And despite a bad first debate performance, his advertising team kept at it in the minutes, hours, and days after it ended.
Is the Bloomberg campaign the ultimate refutation of the adage that “advertising is dead”? Can sheer volume still make up for a lack of prior top-of-mind recall? Is it all a one-time only, ego-driven folly? What are the lessons here for consumer brand marketing folks?
In essence, Bloomberg represents the ultimate dream client for an agency: Here’s the client who’ll agree to doing EVERYTHING in the pitch deck — from the big, sexy campaigns to the back-of-deck activation filler ideas the interns kicked in. No idea seems too out there, no audience too small for some sort of tactic. Because the time is now, the money is endless, and the effects need to be immediate.
Some stories have popped up lately about the people working on Bloomberg’s campaign — his team is an amalgamation of experienced political pros, ad industry folks on temporary leave from their agency jobs, and other hired guns. A few agencies well-known for their consumer advertising supposedly are kicking in ideas as well.
Are they a group of die-hard Bloomberg supporters? True believers? I’m sure some are, but who knows. We’ve all worked on products we didn’t completely believe in.
But here’s the most important part – Bloomberg is paying. A lot. And right now, there are plenty of advertising folks, full-time employees and freelancers alike, who dream of working for a client who can afford a good day rate and pay their bills on time, with some meals and other perks thrown in.
Let’s face it: it's a testament to the lure of a big-spending client. Ad folks can't resist those easily. Maybe it’s the last gasp of an age of advertising in which the business was lucrative and the work had a massive, immediate impact. And after seeing so many ad professionals get beaten down by corporate politics, seen their careers get disrupted, or get kicked to the curb unceremoniously, I certainly wouldn’t cast aspersions on anyone for taking a few months to get a piece of Bloomberg’s billions.
The advertising has bought a level of name recognition other candidates couldn’t afford. Will the campaign get him elected? As of my writing this, I have no idea. It’s certainly not going to be the sole determining factor. And the product needs to get better, particularly after his first debate performance. Yet it certainly doesn’t appear that the strategy or the messaging was altered substantially. I suppose we’d all appreciate a client that didn’t panic at the first sign of trouble.
The Bloomberg campaign may not exist one month from today. But the fact remains that right now, it’s a gravy train, the likes of which the advertising industry hasn’t seen in a long time. And likely won’t see again.
We’re living in an age in which people are wildly proclaiming “advertising is dead.” Or that they don’t pay attention to it. Or that it has little effect on the decision making or purchases of today’s jaded audiences. Or that it’s ruined politics. (I wouldn’t argue that last point, actually.)
But right now, we’re seeing what the power of massive advertising spending can do. And what it can’t. Ultimately, Bloomberg needs to make one sale with each voter (or enough voters).
So he’s not going to stop spending, and as an ad professional I can’t look away. In other words, I’m feeling the burn rate.
(This was written February 22nd, during the Nevada caucuses.)
Since 2002, Dan Goldgeier has been writing the most provocative advertising columns about advertising and marketing -- over 170 of them, covering every related topic you can think of. Now based in Seattle, Dan is a copywriter and ad school graduate who's worked at shops big and small.
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