With Election Over, Commercial Breaks are Safe Spaces Again

Susan Shelley

Columnist and member of the editorial board of the Southern California News Group, and the author of the book, “How Trump Won.”


Congratulations. If you are reading these words, you have survived the 2016 election.

On TV news, peace has returned to the commercial break. Did you ever in your life think you’d be grateful for the return of ads for reverse mortgages?

A month of wall-to-wall political advertising is enough to make a person yearn to hear the terrifying list of side effects in a prescription drug commercial.

Anything is better than the round-the-clock Battle of the Misleading Ballot Measures. It could be days before we figure out what we’ve done. I think we may have voted to give porn producers the death penalty for selling marijuana in a plastic bag. Something has to be wrapped in plastic, I’m not sure.

It’s exhausting to sort out 17 statewide propositions, not to mention all the city and county measures that sound like they were named by a neurotic puppet on Sesame Street.

Every day brought another barrage of political ads on radio, television, and websites. Even phones were sounding off with unwanted text messages.

It got so bad that you couldn’t engage in the most routine activities, like watching the Chicago Cubs win the World Series, without being interrupted by a grouchy message from the governor.

While all political ads are annoying, the negative ones are worse. In 2012, the Marist Poll found that almost 80 percent of Americans were sick of negative ads, 64 percent thought negative ads harm the political process, and 56 percent think the tone of political ads has become uncivil and disrespectful.

And those were the good old days.

This year, people were so disgusted with political ads that the advertising agency for Hefty trash bags created online ads that looked like a black trash bag covering up a rectangle on the screen. “This political ad has been trashed thanks to Hefty,” the ad read in white letters over the black box.

In the presidential race, there actually was less TV advertising than in previous years, thanks to Donald Trump campaigning one sentence at a time on Twitter. The non-partisan Center for Responsive Politics estimates that total TV spending on the 2016 race for the White House will add up to about $2.65 billion, less than the $2.76 billion spent on the 2012 campaign, adjusted for inflation.

Trump aired about 68,000 TV ads in the five months from June through October, according to an analysis by the Wesleyan Media Project. Mitt Romney bought 182,000 commercials during the comparable period in 2012.

Executives at TV stations must have thought somebody took away Christmas. Sinclair Broadcast Group, which owns 173 stations, told investors that the “unique nature” of the presidential election was one reason for the company’s lower third-quarter earnings.

Still, there was plenty of TV advertising in other races. California’s 17 statewide ballot measures brought in $473 million in campaign contributions to support or oppose them, breaking a record set in 2008. The biggest contributors were pharmaceutical companies, which spent $109 million to oppose Proposition 61, and tobacco companies, which spent $71 million to oppose Proposition 56.

Governor Brown finally spent the money he raised but didn’t need for his 2014 re-election campaign. Late in the race, he wrote a check for $4 million to oppose Proposition 53, which called for voters to approve $2 billion or more in revenue bonds for state projects. Brown also dropped another $2 million into the campaign for Proposition 57, the prison early-release measure that he put on the ballot.

At least the TV advertising, annoying as it is, doesn’t make your hands bleed. You can always spot the registered voters in California by their papercuts. Wrestling the stack of lookalike cardboard campaign flyers out of the mailbox was a little more hazardous every week.

But at last, it’s over. No more candidates promising to be fighting fighters who’ll fight for us. No more cartoons of children dancing on tax increases. No more brooding music, no more unflattering photos, no more attacks.

It’s once again safe to watch football and basketball. Beer and new cars have returned to the commercial breaks.

Welcome back, beer and new cars. Welcome back, prescription drug side effects. Welcome back, reverse mortgages and gold coins. How we’ve missed you.

Somebody once called advertising, “the last bastion of optimism in a gloomy world.”

Whoever said that obviously never lived through an election in California.

But you did. Congratulations!

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