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Survey: Advertising Didn't Resonate With Late Deciders in Days Before Election

A survey of voters released yesterday concluded that the barrage of advertising in the election campaign's closing weeks didn't resonate with late deciders.

Research on when voters made their decision showed they were less likely to recall — let alone be influenced by — advertising. Also, 42 percent had decided who they would vote for by the time the primaries ended, and 75 percent of voters had made their decision before the debates. The survey was conducted by Draft Inc., Chicago.

Only 4.7 percent of voters switched from one candidate to another, and they did so late in the process as 59 percent of switchers decided in October or on Election Day.

Regarding the 2008 election, Draft said opinions and attitudes will likely form early in the race, causing candidates to consider front-loading their advertising expenditures.

“The 2004 election no doubt ranks among the most expensive customer acquisition campaigns in history,” Draft chairman/CEO Howard Draft said in a statement. “Without an incumbent running in 2008, both candidates will likely finish the primaries with fewer 'decideds,' forcing them to spend more money out of the gate. That means rethinking the role of each advertising medium.”

In 2004, regarding the presidential race, the combined campaigns tripled the total media spending from $306 million in 2000 to an estimated $990 million. More than 90 percent — an estimated $910 million — was spent in 16 battleground states. Also, there was an escalated use of non-traditional ad spending. Direct mail, for example, rose from $59.5 million in 2000 to $214.9 million this year. Internet spending jumped from $1 million to $6 million as public relations and promotion went from $28.9 million to $107.4 million.

“The huge amount of mass advertising in the final weeks of the campaign did little to change the minds of the vast majority of voters, many of whom had made their decisions early on,” Draft said. “Moreover, when asked how they felt about the amount of presidential campaign advertising they saw or heard, most of those surveyed said the advertising was too much, too negative and didn't change their votes.”

Draft said this indicates the importance of a more targeted approach in getting to the right voters and getting to them early.

The survey's top findings include some steps future candidates should consider to more wisely guide spending decisions. They include:

· Keep in mind that early deciders are more likely to have a college degree, more likely to be married, less likely to have children in the household and more likely to be Caucasian.

· Be local and personal. Don't blanket consumers with the same key messages. Create a dialogue with voters by topic and by region with media that aren't intrusive. Use targeted direct mail databases, telephone exchanges and opt-in e-mails.

· The presidential debates were important. Among voters who changed preferences, 61 percent did so during or after the debates.

· Despite his loss, Democratic candidate John Kerry had converts. He converted more voters than President Bush. Among those who changed preference (either from undecided or from candidate to candidate), 38 percent converted to Bush and 58 percent converted to Kerry.

· Only 25 percent of voters made their final decision in October or November. Twenty-eight percent of voters in non-battleground states made their decision late while 20 percent did so in battleground states. Some of the late ad spend could have been shifted and perhaps effectively been spent in non-battleground states.

· Ad volume was annoying. Thirty percent of those who saw the presidential advertising were more negative about Bush while 20 percent were more positive after seeing his ads. Kerry fared little better since 31 percent were more negative while 29 percent felt more positive about Kerry after seeing his ads.

Draft conducted its telephone survey of 1,013 randomly called voters from this year's election Nov. 3-6. The presidential campaign spending data was compiled from several sources, including PQ Media and TNS Media Intelligence/Campaign Media Analysis Group. The survey has a margin of error of plus or minus 3 percent.

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