Political campaign season is upon us and that means one thing: really bad political ads on TV. There are 50,000 public elections every year in the United States. And an estimated $3 billion will be spent on political TV ads alone in 2008. Spot Runner wants to get in on the action, and maybe even raise the quality of the ads a little, by turning its self-serve TV advertising platform over to politicians. Today it is launching a political section of its site, where both national and local political campaigns can create TV ads for as little as $500 and run them in highly targeted cities and even neighborhoods. It has also assembled a high-powered political advisory board that includes former Senator Bill Bradley and political strategists Mike Murphy, Dan Schnur and Bob Shrum.
Spot Runner so far has focused mostly on making it easy for local businesses and national franchises to buy TV ads on both cable and network TV. To keep costs down, the company shoots different ads which can be modified by each customer, and lets them target the ads by neighborhood. The ad selection and media planning is all self-serve and automated over the Internet. Now the company wants to help level the playing field in political campaigns, especially local ones that may not have as much money for TV ads. CEO Nick Grouf tells me:
One reason we started Spot Runner was during the 2004 campaign we found out you can do better targeting using TV than the Internet. The two big barriers were the cost of creating an ad, and challenges around the fundamental media buying and planning that need to occur.
He believes Spot Runner has begun to solve those challenges. To start with, Spot Runner has created 22 generic ad templates that can be further modified, which cover issues ranging from taxes and education to immigration and leadership. Campaigns add video images of the candidate and tweak the script any way they like. Spot Runner will record the voiceovers. And if new footage needs to be shot of the candidate on the campaign trail or working hard in Congress, Spot Runner can supply the camera crew (in January it purchased GlobeShooters, a network of about 1,500 video professionals).
And then when it comes time to pick where to show the ads, Spot Runner has developed a sophisticated media map of the U.S. that lets campaigns target ads by age, gender, income levels, voter affiliations, and even history of campaign contributions. A campaign manager can choose to run the seniors ad in older neighborhoods and the education reform ads in neighborhoods with a lot of young families. Spot Runner also lets campaigns create fund raising ads that can be e-mailed to supporters.
To get a sense of what these ads look like, here is an ad for Peter Tesei, a Republican in Greenwich, Connecticut who won a recent local election for Selectman:
Here is the generic ad before it was customized: