Analysis: Is there a point to televised election ads in 2015?

Online election videos aren’t new to Israel, but they seem to have taken over this election’s campaigns.

Naftali Bennett in hipster satire‏ (photo credit: screenshot)
Naftali Bennett in hipster satire‏
(photo credit: screenshot)
The election campaign kicked off in December, when Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu fired then-finance minister Yair Lapid and justice minister Tzipi Livni, and it didn’t take long for social media to fill up with viral campaign videos. Three months and hundreds of online videos later, the televised election ads that will be aired on television beginning Tuesday seem redundant.
Online election videos aren’t new to Israel, but they seem to have taken over this election’s campaigns. Parties have taken up tit-for-tat tactics, creating response videos by dubbing over their rivals and using clips of their ads to mock them. A Saturday night does not go by without a new showing from the Likud to be aired on the major political TV programs.
As of Monday afternoon, the most popular online campaign video, featuring the prime minister playing “Bibi-sitter,” had over 1.8 million views, and two others – Netanyahu being interrupted by fake election scandals like “the snails in the yard,” and Bayit Yehudi chairman Naftali Bennett dressing up as an apologetic Tel Aviv hipster – have over half a million each.
Pretty impressive numbers in such a small country.
So one has to wonder, what is the point of the antiquated practice of airing scheduled, televised campaign ads? In past election campaigns, watching the television spots was a ritual for those interested in politics. Whole families would gather on the couch to see who had the best jokes, who had celebrity cameos and who had a catchy new jingle. The small parties with little chance of getting in the Knesset were often a highlight, as many had bizarre showings.
Those small parties are one of the major beneficiaries of the televised ads, though they get fewer minutes of fame than the 15 Andy Warhol promised and have to make do with just seven.
Still, those parties, whether it’s the Defending Our Children (the anti-pornography party) or the Pirates, will get to broadcast their candidates and platforms on television to an audience that may just be there for the Zionist Union or Yesh Atid or the Likud and might not have read up about the smaller ones or watched their online videos.
The audience of the televised ads is somewhat different than that of the online ones, as any strategist would point out. Some of the clips will be repeats of what we’ve already seen on Facebook, but there will be many new ones, and they will skew older. Let’s face it, millennials are not such a huge percentage of the population. Many voters do not consider Facebook and Twitter to be their primary sources of news and information, but still watch the TV news. The election ads will target them.
There’s another reason not to abolish campaign ads on TV. If you’re reading this article in a print newspaper – perhaps with your morning coffee or a bowl of cereal – and not on, then you already know it. New is nice, but it isn’t always better.
Sometimes it’s comforting or even more fun to do things the old way.
So gather your family on the couch tomorrow evening, and enjoy the show!