Message Matters More than Money

A sometimes controversial, unabashedly conservative first-term state senator is consistently vilified by the press throughout his first term in office. In the next election cycle, he faces a challenger from within his own party.

The challenger is a popular local figure whose decades of public service include two terms as mayor and two terms on the city council of the largest city in his district, in addition to appointments to several city and state commissions. Signs supporting him sprout up like dandelions during the spring campaign.

In a May 3, 2018 article in the The Lewiston Tribune, writer William Spence set the stage for the contest. He wrote:

[Comstock] decided to run for the Legislature because he disagrees with Foreman on certain issues, and with the way he treats some constituents.

For example, he was offended by Foreman’s comment during a recent forum that Latah County, and the university and greater Moscow area in particular, is a “cesspool of liberalism.”

“To me, we’re a good mix of liberals, conservatives and moderates, and we all seem to get along,” Comstock said.

Foreman had a number of other widely publicized run-ins with constituents during his first term, including telling one “liberal nuttard” at the Latah County Fair last year to “go straight to hell.” Earlier this year he threatened to call the police on a group of Planned Parenthood representatives, and suggested “hard-core, left-wing extremists” are turning Moscow into “a big, selfish, godless town without a soul.”

When it comes to the issues, Comstock said his biggest disagreement with Foreman is over education funding. He supports an increased investment in public schools, as well as higher education and UI; Foreman, by contrast, has twice voted against the higher education budget, saying it had “too much pork.”

Both candidates reached out to voters in their campaign advertising, setting forth their positions. The incumbent relied mainly on radio to get his message to the voters. His :60-second campaign spot was simple, straightforward, and focused:


The challenger also did a bit of radio advertising, but placed greater emphasis on print and social media, including endorsements, letters to the editor, and videos, such as the one below, which covers a lot of ground in thirty seconds:


The challenger’s war chest was considerably larger than the incumbent’s, and his campaign expenditures were more than three times greater ($19,355.06 vs. $5,671.56). Based solely on the relative financial strengths of the two campaigns, the challenger should easily have coasted to a decisive victory.

Instead, he lost the election by 109 votes.

Evidently the message counted for more than the money.

Zoom out to a statewide perspective: the Idaho governor’s race. Ten individuals ran, spending nearly $11 million in the process. The largest spenders in both parties lost their bids. On the Republican side, Tommy Ahlquist spent nearly $4.5 million (more than $2.5 million out of his own pocket); he lost to Lt. Governor Brad Little, whose campaign expenditures amounted to $2.5 million. The results on the Democrat side were even more lopsided. The victor in that race, Paulette Jordan, spent $395,000 on her campaign; rival A. J. Balukoff spent more than six times that amount. Jordan received 58.6% of the vote; Balukoff, 40.1%.

Evidently the message counted for more than the money.

In the introduction to his book, FOCUS: THE FUTURE OF YOUR COMPANY DEPENDS ON IT, positioning and branding expert Al Ries sets forth his thesis:

The sun is a powerful source of energy. Every hour the sun washes the earth with billions of kilowatts of energy. Yet with a hat and some sunscreen you can bathe in the light of the sun for hours at a time with few ill effects.

A laser is a weak source of energy. A laser takes only a few watts of energy and focuses them in a coherent stream of light. But with a laser you can drill a hole in a diamond or wipe out a cancer.

When you focus a company, you create the same effect. You create a powerful, laserlike ability to dominate a market. That’s what focusing is all about.

When a company becomes unfocused, it loses its power. It becomes a sun that dissipates its energy over too many products and too many markets.

The same principle holds true for a message – in this case, an advertising message. Whether for a political candidate, a business, professional, or non-profit organization, focus can mean the difference between a message that penetrates the brain and one that goes in one ear and out the other.

When it comes to interpersonal communication, nothing is more powerful than human speech, or what we like to call “word-of-mouth.”

Word-of-mouth is the original “social media.” Because speech is our primary form of communication. (Print, in all its forms, is just an imitation of speech.)

Radio is the only pure-audio, pure-speech mass medium at your disposal.  Radio puts your word-of-mouth on steroids.

It’s a powerful medium. Use it effectively. Focus your message.

We can help you with that.

About Rod Schwartz

Rod Schwartz backed into a lifelong career in radio advertising in 1973 in Springfield, Illinois. He joined the Pullman (Wash.) Radio Group in 1979, where he worked until his retirement at the end of 2022. Since 1991, Rod and his family have operated Grace Broadcast Sales (, providing short-form syndicated radio features to radio and TV stations across the U.S. and Canada. Rod also operates an independent advertising, marketing, and communications consultancy for small business owners and professionals, An avid photographer, Rod shares some of his favorite images of the Palouse at and on his Viewbug gallery.
This entry was posted in Advertising (General), Branding, Client-voiced commercials, Communication, Copywriting, Newspaper, political advertising, Positioning, Print, Professional Services Advertising, Radio Advertising, Radio Commercials, Radio Copywriting, Radio Production, Storytelling. Bookmark the permalink.

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