Turning North Carolina
from Red to Blue
By Ondine Fortune
One of the most difficult challenges
of any campaign is targeting younger voters. Distracted
by a zillion media options—from the Internet
to iPods and video games—consumed by busy social
schedules and fledgling careers, young voters can
be tough to reach.
Direct mail has little or no impact
with this age group. Radio, the old choice, has been
shattered by satellite service and iPods. Network
television audiences have dramatically slipped away.
Enter cable television: a medium that now delivers
strong and consistent target audiences for campaigns.
This is the story of how we at Fortune
Media Inc. developed and executed a microtargeted
media plan to deliver the right North Carolina audiences
on behalf of EMILY’s List, a PAC committed to
electing more pro-choice Democratic women to office.
The organization wanted to boost
voting by targeting the 18- to 30-year-old voters,
including African-Americans. There were several important
races for the Democrats and EMILY’s List in
North Carolina in 2008, including Bev Perdue running
for governor and Kay Hagan running for Senate. EMILY’S
List hoped to encourage young voters to look beyond
the presidential race and vote down-ticket for these
female candidates for statewide offices.
All indications were that the Obama
campaign had energized younger voters. However, no
assumptions could be made; in 2004, polls indicated
a lot of younger voter excitement for Kerry but in
the end their turnout was a great disappointment.
The first challenge was to ensure whatever youth support
existed would widen to include the high-profile Senate
and gubernatorial campaigns and other female candidates
running for statewide offices.
media buys targeted young African-American
voters to make the difference in tough races…
The candidates faced long battles at the outset. Hagan,
unknown outside her state Senate district, began with
virtually no name recognition. She had to start from
scratch and run a very aggressive campaign. Perdue,
meanwhile, was struggling for every vote she could
get. Holding younger voters would be crucial to her
“Historically in North Carolina,
Democratic candidates for governor have had a much
easier time than Democratic candidates for U.S. Senate
or president,” explains North Carolina media
consultant Thomas Mills, who consulted on the SEIU’s
independent expenditure for Purdue. In 2004, the Republican
gubernatorial candidate received 25 percent fewer
votes than President George Bush while Democratic
Gov. Mike Easley received almost 21 percent more than
John Kerry did.
Mills says most political observers
expected the same pattern this election cycle. But
while Obama and even Hagan had growing momentum, Perdue
was struggling to fight for the governor’s mansion.
Ultimately, Perdue received the same number of votes
as Obama, while Republican Pat McCrory received only
6 percent less than McCain.
“As a two-term lieutenant governor
and former Senate Appropriations chair, Perdue was
saddled with the ‘insider’ and ‘establishment’
labels while McCrory fashioned himself as an agent
of change,” Mills says. Ironically, that allowed
the Republican to piggyback on Obama’s message
of change, helping particularly with suburban voters
in the Research Triangle and in Charlotte.
Reaching 18–30 in today’s market
is not an easy task. Broadcast viewing continues to
decline, and Scarborough and Nielsen research proved
it was not a cost-efficient method to reach young
voters. We also had to consider that male African-Americans
historically have a very low voting turnout. Extensive
research determined that carefully chosen spot cable
programming and targeted radio in concert with a coordinated
web campaign was the key to reaching the demographic.
We also had to be sure to isolate
this demographic since our focus groups had shown
that tying the candidates to Obama and his agenda
was an effective way to get our target voters to continue
voting down ticket for EMILY’s List candidates.
However, there was also concern that white, older,
non-college women were actually more likely to vote
for the EMILY’s List candidates than they were
for Obama and, indeed, that too close of an association
with Obama may decrease support in this demographic
for the North Carolina candidates.
The challenge, then, was to find programming that
isolated younger voters and avoided the white, older,
Typically, political media buyers
buy a “run of station,” unaware of the
resources and advantages of the microtargeting available
through cable networks. Many buyers only look to lift
overall reach and frequency using low-cost rotators
instead of specific programming. Unlike network television,
where overall audience is 25 to 54, one cable network
can offer a variety of programming targeting very
Media Plan: Cable
We pulled both network rankers and program rankers
for each market and for women 35 and older (to be
sure we bought around them) and for African-Americans
and then again for adults 18 to 30 (A18–30).
We focused on fixed programming on selected networks—BET,
Discovery Channel, Comedy Central, E!, ESPN, ESPN2,
ABC Family, FX, TBS and USA, for the most part—which
gave us the best ratings and ensured that our target
audience would see and hear the message and not get
lost in programs that did not execute our goal.
For instance, ESPN does well for
A18–54 but spikes for A18–30 on “Monday
Night Football”—so we only bought “Monday
Night Football.” Discovery Channel overall does
not do well for A18–30, the exception being
“Mythbusters” and “Dirty Jobs.”
So we only bought these programs. Cartoon Network
is known for reaching kids, but their late-night programming,
“Adult Swim,” features animation for adults.
According to preliminary data from Nielsen Media Research,
the programming currently claims the No. 1 position
among basic cable networks for October 2008 total
day delivery of A18–34 and A18–24.
TBS and USA programming crosses all
demographics. We bought “Frank TV” and
“Tyler Perry’s House of Payne” on
TBS and broadcasts of WWE events on USA. The no-brainers
were BET, MTV and VH1, so we bought a mix of rotators
along with our fixed programs to boost the reach and
frequency of the total buy on these networks only.
In addition, we included high-profile
programming, such as BET’s Hip Hop Awards (where
Barack Obama’s team also bought) and “The
Sarah Silverman Program” and “The Daily
Show” on Comedy Central.
Media Plan: Radio
We included urban radio in all the major TV markets,
targeting the A18–30 group and African-Americans.
Our experience in prior campaigns taught us that African-American
women 35 and older are more likely to vote, and the
older they get the more likely they are to vote. Knowing
this, we also recommended gospel radio for the last
three weeks of the buy. Gospel radio has a listening
audience of mature African-American women. We believed
we could convince them to vote down-ballot and that
they would have influence on those around them; sociological
research shows they can influence up to seven males
in their circle. Since African-American voters often
take their cues from parents and grandparents, EMILY’s
List featured a spot with a grandmother talking about
why it is important for her children and grandchildren
The governor, senate, secretary of state and treasurer
races all went to women Democrats. And, of course,
Barack Obama won the state by an extremely narrow
margin. The Greensboro News & Record called Hagan’s
victory “an upset virtually unthinkable just
a year ago, when Democrats scrambled to find a challenger
to take on Dole.”
Did the 18–30 voters make
a difference? The state board of elections’
early estimates show that 32 percent of new voters
between January and November 2008 were 18- to 24-year-olds.
In lieu of the yet-to-be-published voter tallies,
it is fair to assume that a good majority went to
the polls. In addition, 28 percent of the first-time
voters who voted during the early voting period were
under 26 years old.
The governor’s race was won
by 3.3 percent, or 145,000 votes. Our estimates show
there were just shy of 900,000 A18–24 registered
voters, which is a boost of 4 percent over 2004.
These voters initially got
involved over their excitement for Barack Obama. EMILY’s
List made sure to capture these voters for races down
ballot. In Perdue’s case, this was the closest
race in the country and these younger voters very
likely made the difference in this historic victory.
Politics Magazine 2.05.2009
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