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Could Bloomberg’s huge ad buy backfire?

‘The sheer frequency could tip voters from aware to annoyed in a week’

November 25, 2019

12:13 PM

25 November 2019

12:13 PM

Around this time of the year, the biggest stories in the ad industry typically involve Black Friday and holiday campaigns. But then former New York City mayor Mike Bloomberg decided to launch his bid for the presidency.

After Bloomberg formally unveiled his campaign on Sunday with a video that cited his success rebuilding NYC’s economy after the 9/11 terrorist attacks (and credit there is well deserved), The Guardian reported that the financial technology billionaire had already purchased $30 million in TV advertising. That’s not a lot of money for Bloomberg, whose net worth is estimated at over $50 billion, but it’s a hell of a lot of ads. Political ad research firm Advertising Analytics reported that the markets that will see the most Bloomberg campaign ads will be Los Angeles, New York, Dallas-Ft. Worth, Houston, and Miami — an unorthodox strategy, given none of those markets are in states with early primaries, and with the exception of Miami, none are in swing states. 

‘Never seen a 2020 TV ad till today when I have seen three for Bloomberg,’ quipped author Chris Arnade on Sunday evening. 


‘Just for a sense of scale, people who watch NBC’s local news this week in Los Angeles from 4 p.m. to 7 p.m. will see NINE Michael Bloomberg ads — every day,’ New York Times political reporter Shane Goldmacher tweeted. ‘If someone watched just the 5 p.m. newscast all week — they would see 20 ads that are each one minute long.’

This could backfire, and not just because fellow Democratic contenders Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren are launching full-throated attacks on Bloomberg’s alleged attempt to buy his way to the presidency. Put simply: ad overload is an outdated strategy that annoys the living daylights out of consumers.

Way back in 2012, a YouGov survey found that a fifth of American consumers would stop using a product if they saw too many ads for it. In 2014, media industry analyst Rich Greenfield was previewing an on-demand video service from a cable provider and saw the same ad for Audi cars multiple times in a row. ‘You almost can’t make this up, it is such a horrible viewing experience,’ he said at the time. ‘I’m starting to hate Audi at this point.’

It used to be that the only way for an advertiser to reach audiences was to effectively throw things at the wall and see what stuck — you didn’t know which consumers are muting the TV on commercials or getting up to go grab a beer from the fridge, so you’d have to hope they saw your ad at least once and paid sufficient attention to it. Digital changed things. On one hand, better targeting (which, it should be said, has come under considerable fire in political advertising) makes it possible to choose a (potentially) more receptive audience, and technologies exist to tell an advertiser whether the consumer who was served an ad actually saw it. 

But on the other, the internet has more or less infinite ad space and as a result consumers are seeing more ads than ever. Bloomberg has appointed the former CMO of Facebook to oversee the ad spend on his old platform. And as the Bloomberg campaign inevitably expands its reach from TV advertising to digital, that’s where this in-your-face strategy gets really bad. A much-cited estimate from 2006 put the number of ads the average American saw per day well into the thousands; in 2012, two-thirds of respondents to a survey said they were exposed to too many digital ads; in 2018, another survey found that around 90 percent of consumers thought ads were getting more intrusive and a similar percentage said they thought they were seeing more ads in general than just two or three years prior.

All this is a recipe for people developing more of a distaste for in-your-face advertising than ever. Sure, TV is a different medium — or at least it is for now, given that three quarters of American households now own internet-connected devices that can stream video to a TV. ‘TV’, for many people, is watched via Netflix, Amazon Prime, Hulu, or other services where they’ve grown accustomed to being able to opt out of advertising. The rise of ad-free viewing has led multiple broadcasters to make sweeping commitments to reducing the ad load in their primetime programming.

To that end, Bloomberg’s scorched-airwaves TV advertising strategy seems like something that would have been more appropriate for Ross Perot in 1992. Media has changed. Spending gobs of money on repetitive broadcast TV advertising is now just as likely to be a way to annoy people, not to endear them — especially with the campaign targeting markets that aren’t used to being flooded with political ads as primary season rolls around.

‘This is an extraordinary experiment to see if a high enough dosage of ad dollars can counter months of coverage and conversation,’ tweeted Tom Morton, US chief strategy officer of ad agency R/GA. ‘The sheer frequency could tip voters from aware to annoyed in a week.’

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