U. Iowa Profs: Political Advertising Playing Different Role In Campaign

This story was written by Shawn Gude, The Daily Iowan

Advertising experts from Iowa universities agree: The presidential campaign is shaping up to be a unique one.For one, University of Iowacommunications studies Professor Bruce Gronbeck said, the role of campaign television ads is changing rapidly."I think, comparatively, the advertising campaigns are much less important than they were going back to 1960 The status of television ads is really up in the air right now," Gronbeck said.The changes come from technological advances such as the Internet, as well as divergent ways of advertisement placement, Gronbeck said. YouTube, social networking sites, and the blogosphere have all altered the way in which candidates attempt to reach voters.Traditional television advertising, Gronbeck said, may be on the way out."It really appears there's a disconnect between advertising and election outcome," said Gronbeck, who is also the director of the UI Center for Media Studies and Political Culture.In addition, longer campaigns - the first-in-the-nation Iowa caucus started earlier than it ever had, Jan. 3 - and a greater focus on battleground states has led to more demographic-specific statewide ads rather than broader national ones.Gronbeck said Iowa was the anomaly in advertising - candidates saturated the television market. For the most part, however, candidates are focusing on other ways to "get into peoples' houses." Campaigns are hiring bigger staffs and "personal outreach" to garner support.The ads they are running are also somewhat nonconventional, Gronbeck said. While relatively orthodox ads are still present, presidential-nomination hopefuls are now airing ads focusing on individual controversies or an issue that "suddenly hits the public attention."For example, just over a week after Democratic presidential-nomination hopeful Barack Obama's infamous April 6 "bitter" comment about small-town voters, opponent Hillary Rodham Clinton aired advertisements in Pennsylvania depicting Obama as an elitist.Still, negative advertisements have been relatively tame, Gronbeck said."[There has been] a little bit of character comparison, but much of it's pretty safe," he said.Iowa State's John Thomas, an associate professor in the journalism and communication school, expects it to stay that way. Both Democratic nomination hopefuls would represent demographic firsts if elected president."It's kind of like a brand," Thomas said. "They stand for certain things. Obama stands for something, and Hillary stands for something."Because of that, Thomas said he foresees a relatively clean election. Candidates won't delve into overly negative campaigning for fear of being labeled bigoted or misogynistic, he contended."Peoples' hands are kind of tied," said Thomas, who expects the general election to be more issues-based.Gronbeck sees the candidates focusing on the economy and health care - "issues that people see in their own lives and their own neighborhoods." The UI professor said the Iraq war and illegal immigration concerns may also get some play, but depicting rising gas prices and home foreclosures will have more of an effect on voters.