Citizens United: A New Reality for DRTV


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By:  Beth Vendice, President, Mercury Media Boston

Like most of my friends and most people in America, I was surprised when the Supreme Court recently revised limits on corporate and organizational limits to election spending. The Citizens United ruling has been widely demonized as a threat to democracy, as I’m sure you’ve read.  In fact, one survey recently showed that 78% of Americans believe that corporations should be limited in how much they can spend to influence elections in the wake of this ruling.

But maybe there’s another side to this ruling, and I’d like you to consider it. There’s a perception, and a reality.

We are not a political organization.  Far from it.  We help brands reach their audience and sell products through direct response media.  And with that in mind, I see more opportunities than limitations in the recent Supreme Court ruling.  As marketing experts, we think organizations that want to reach a constituency will be the biggest beneficiaries from this ruling.  Personally, I don’t think this will result in companies blatantly supporting candidates.  I think companies will use non-profits to support issues.  And non-profits, in turn, will use this decision to get their message out to their constituency, and even reach people who don’t know about their organization or cause.

There’s an opportunity here for responsible non-profits and political action committees.  It requires our approach which is a predictable, businesslike, and successful approach to direct response advertising.  The difference here is in the response.  Our work for Neutrogena drove brand awareness and sold product.  For non-profits,  we know how to drive awareness and make people respond to a message, which is not a product obviously, but could be a direct request for data, knowledge, donations, and indications of support.

I think three things make direct response TV and Mercury Media good candidates for making the Supreme Court ruling an opportunity rather than a threat:

  • We are a media company: We have relationships with media agencies, media content owners, and networks.  We buy media in bulk, and we buy at discounted direct response rates.  We’re currently buying for late summer and fall.
  • We are a creative company: We know how to put the message up front and be honest.  There is an emotional pull that most non-profits have.  We know how to create it; we know the issues to avoid.   Is it a call that is necessary? A visit to a website? A call to voice your opinion?  Will it five seconds or 15 minutes to get the attention you are seeking?  We can answer those questions.
  • We are an operations company: We partner with and manage call centers and polling stations, and we have the infrastructure to track and analyze real time feedback.  That might be the most important thing responsible non-profits will need to reach apprehensive constituents on this new ruling.

Direct response is perceived as a quick call to “buy now.”  We know that business.  We know the perception of that business. The reality is very different and this new Supreme Court ruling has changed the reality of our industry even more.  I look forward to speaking with you about this soon.

Beth is President of Mercury Media Boston and is responsible for leading the strategic direction and day-to-day operations of the national short-form practice.  Since joining Mercury in 2001 she has led the firm to significant year-over-year growth by attracting clients that include Mandalay Bay Resorts Group, LifeLock, Boost Mobile, Conair and Vegas.com.

Beth can be reached at bvendice@mercurymedia.com

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