- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 27, 2008

Million-dollar political campaigns have got some bargain-basement competition.

A mere $499 gets a candidate a snappy 30-second TV spot — complete with patriotic colors, a compelling message and a slick announcer. Exclusivity, however, is not part of the package. The shell of a spot is pre-produced with all the appropriate Hollywood touches — lots of heartfelt imagery and dramatic pauses.

The candidate’s name, photo, logo and district are simply dropped in as electronic graphics at the appropriate moment. The finished commercials are available in 24 to 48 hours.

It’s an effort to “democratize the election process by leveling the playing field,” said former Sen. Bill Bradley, New Jersey Democrat and adviser to Spot Runner, the upstart Los Angeles-based marketing company that began offering the service yesterday.

“It’s groundbreaking,” Mr. Bradley added.

The company has created a library of 22 ready-made spots that showcase generic political messages, divided into such categories as “scathing political candidate ad” or “urgent political outreach for your law-and-order candidate.”

The selections — or “templates” — include commercials touting faith-based content or assorted takes on leadership, immigration, crime, health benefits and education. A spot titled “Strong Leader” features soft-focus photos of the Lincoln and Jefferson memorials, emblazoned with the motto “your headshot here” and a blank spot for a local contact number.

Old-fashioned patriotic outreach is paired with sophisticated micro-targeting that leaves little to chance. The company also helps candidates pinpoint strategic media buys using a “geo-voter targeting process” that combines political district maps, data on local television outreach, donor statistics plus demographic and psychographic breakdowns about the locals.

“This really treats political advertising like a commodity. In the age of Costco and Amazon, there’s no reason not to buy a campaign right off the shelf. Voters may not know the difference,” said John McNulty, an assistant professor of politics at Binghampton University who specializes in voter behavior.

“At this price, there can’t be much personal tailoring. Much traditional political consulting has been at the other end of the spectrum — very customized, but it will cost you an arm and a leg and maybe your firstborn,” Mr. McNulty said.

A leaner approach is in fashion, apparently.

“All candidates and campaigns are concerned with getting the most value for their dollar,” said Mike Murphy, another of the company’s advisers and a Republican strategist.

Spot Runner officials said they met with candidates and consultants and heard how expensive it was to reach out to their constituencies.

“Yes, the candidates can take a ‘template’ off our shelf. But they can also use it as a building block to tell their story,” said Kurt Weinsheimer, Spot Runner’s vice president for local marketing.

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