Roof racks, matchbooks and newspaper ads

Answer: Roof racks, matchbooks and newspaper ads

Question: Name three things no longer used in modern political campaigns

The Donoghue v Doherty state senate race has given those of us interested in politics much to contemplate. You have two capable candidates who have each raised more than $100,000, and the result has been a fascinating campaign to watch from the outside. Even though the real analysis of what worked and what didn’t won’t take place until Wednesday, we can make some observations right now.

In years past, newspaper advertising often was the single biggest expenditure by candidates. That’s no longer the case. Even this morning, just two days before the election, neither candidate had an ad in the local newspaper. That both candidates (who are both employing professional campaign consultants) have neglected this established campaign tool cannot be a coincidence. Perhaps the campaigns anticipate more bang for their buck from other things – like direct mail.

As I wrote earlier this morning, the large-format, full-colored post card seems to have become the primary delivery system of local campaigns in 2010. Chris Doherty used them more than anyone. He seemed to use them in two different phases. Early on, his cards focused on his background and on his position on the issues. This group reminded me of a long story serialized in consecutive issues of a magazine; each built upon the previous one, creating more and more interest each time. Doherty’s second postcard phase, however, shifted to attack mode, repeatedly criticizing Donoghue for various things. The idea, I suppose, was to first define himself and then define his opponent. Whether this was effective will be determined by the voters on Tuesday. Donoghue also sent multiple postcards with all but the last one focused exclusively on her record as mayor of Lowell and as a city councilor. The most recent postcard struck back at Doherty’s attacks on her. A couple of things have made these postcards so popular: high speed, high volume color printers are much more affordable. Database availability allows campaigns to better target voters, making mailings much more efficient.

Both campaigns have made extensive use of the internet with active websites and Facebook pages. With so many people spending so much time online, this kind of web presence is crucial. Both campaigns have also employed telephones and door-to-door canvassing to ID voters. Several folks have reported seeing a Doherty commercial on cable TV which, for a ten year period beginning in the early 1990s, was one of the prime methods of local campaigning. The profusion of channels and the disappearance of the local cable news program (remember “Newscenter 6”?) has made cable commercials less attractive.

Ironically, radio seems to be resurgent in campaigning these days. Both Donoghue and Doherty have commercials on WCAP as does almost every other candidate in a contested race up and down the ballot. It’s funny; the last time I remember WCAP being mentioned in the local newspaper’s political column, it was a disparaging remark about the small size of WCAP’s listenership. The candidates must have different data because they’re all on the radio and not in the newspaper.

Strangely enough, I would advise a candidate to not skip the newspaper entirely. A few ads that complement the direct mail message could still be effective. But maybe I’m just old fashioned: I still mourn the demise of the “roof rack” – the sign-displaying contraption held to the roof of your car with suction cups and bungee cords. Who knows? Donoghue and Doherty both might have ads in Monday’s paper, but even if they do, their absence until now signals a historic change in thinking when it comes to local political campaigns.

5 Responses to Roof racks, matchbooks and newspaper ads

  1. chasS says:

    Brings back memories of when I was Campaign Manager for, Senator John Harrington, who represented the First Middlesex District from 1960-70. Don’t miss the roof signs as they were a bloody nuisance getting them on the car roof and keeping them there. Match books though were a great way to get the candidates name out. We would have a group of campaign workers handing out match books Downtown on Monday and Thursday nights when the stores were open until 9 PM Nobody refused a free match book (more people smoked back then) which were emblazoned as Lawyer, Veteran, Democrat. Only the Veteran would probably be on them today.

  2. Marie says:

    Another campaign tool was the “palm card” – remember the hand-outs at the polls as workers pounced on the voters trying to get inside and vote? The stricter enforcement of “no politiking” within 150 feet of the ENTRANCE to a polling place brought about that demise. The use of match books as an advertising tool really hit the funeral business hard as well. Remember the trays of cigarettes available for the mourners and their friends? BTW – I remember working hard for Jimmy O’Dea. Jr. in the 1968 Democratic Primary against Senator Harrington. O’Dea lost but exposed Harrington’s vulnerability and in the next cycle Joe Tully took it all! Another lost campaign tool – the Thursday night car-cruising of campaign supporters complete with bull horn and music. The best target was the throng of Thursday night shoppers downtown! Aah the memories!

  3. EileenL says:

    My dad had the roof rack sign on once. He forgot and drove into the garage!! I think of that every time I have the kayaks on my roof!!

  4. JFCost says:

    Funny to think about those old roof rack signs. Your comment Eileen sounds like something right out of the Chevy Chase movie “Vacation”… What a mess that must’ve been! I too sort of miss seeing those guys driving around with them stuck to the roof. That was the only way to reach the masses back then!