Interest groups trying to influence the healthcare reform debate have found a cheap but effective way to reach the masses and enhance their credibility at the same time: Simply announce you are about to launch a big advertising blitz. Following through with a full-scale campaign, it turns out, is only optional.
That's according to a report by the Times Mirror Center for the People and the Press. The report was prepared for the Kaiser Family Foundation, which also sponsored a healthcare reform ad campaign.
"Many organizations managed to persuade members of both the print and electronic press that they were about to `unleash' an ad `blitz,' but these blitzes didn't materialize," said the report, which tracked healthcare reform advertising from mid-September 1993 to May 1994.
Although total costs reached $1.7 million a month, none of the campaigns reached a broad spectrum of American households, the report said. Instead, most focused on local and national news shows and public affairs programs in limited markets, including the hometowns of members of key congressional committees.
Often journalists failed to report whether the campaigns spent enough money to have a broad impact, the report said. The campaigns received "extraordinary" coverage that outweighed the impact of the ads.
Most Americans learned of Harry and Louise, the fictional middle-class couple worried about reform in the Health Insurance Association of America's ads, through the media. In fact, the couple were named by reporters who saw scripts and applied the actors' real names to the characters, the report said.
Harry and Louise rarely played in Peoria, the report said, but they became part of the vernacular in New York and Washington because opinion leaders persuaded themselves that the ad stars had captured Peorians' fancy.