Obama's First Television Ads A Test Of Message

Tomorrow, Barack Obama's campaign launches a fairly frugal series of televison ads with a goal to remind Iowa caucus goers about Obama's biography, answering the "who" question, and connecting his life to his concrete campaign promises -- the "why" question.

One ad, "Choices," describes Obama's post-graduate work as a community organizer and notes that he refused lucrative law firm offers to help working class families instead. The other ad, "Carry," centers on his eight years in the Illinois legislature. Both seem targeted to appeal to mixed-gender, economically-oriented, class-sensitive Democratic caucus audience.

A campaign spokesman said the size of the buy is "low-level," and "modest," and would not elaborate. Those two adjectives generally describe ad buys that reach less than 50% of the voter pool -- about 500 gross ratings points, in TV jargon.

Two other Democrats -- Bill Richardson and Chris Dodd -- are broadcasting their own ads in Iowa.

But unlike Richardson and Dodd, Obama doesn't really need to introduce himself: his ads supplement a month's worth of voter contacts that began with a mass mailing of DVD biographies, followed by a day-long canvass that knocked on 30,000 doors.

Of course, the ads will be repeated ad nauseum on national cable television as well as in Iowa spot markets, so their actual reach will be magnified considerably.

Obama's opponents will be eager to suggest that the campaign's early advertisements suggest they are worried about how where Obama stands in the first in the nation contest, so the Obama campaign is going out of its way to de-emphasize the relative importance of the ad buy in the matrix of campaign activities.

Here is how a background memo describes the purpose of the ads:

The ads focus on Obama's commitment to the power of grassroots movements and his success in bringing people together to solve important challenges. By demonstrating how Obama has successfully dedicated his life to these values, Iowa voters will better understand that Obama's vision for bringing the country together to solve important problems is not just campaign rhetoric. For him, it's been a way of life. The ads will show what Obama will do as President after they learn more about what he's already done.