Ok, I’m not going to ask anyone to get up out of their seats and go to the window and scream “I’m as mad as hell and I’m not going to take it any longer”, as Peter Finch’s character Beale proclaimed in the 1976 movie Network; but like me, I hope you’re mad as hell about the barrage of political advertising during the election seasons, which seems to increase election by election. I cringe at the thought of the upcoming 2016 U.S. Presidential election and without a doubt, I’m sure direct mail will break more records in advertising spending. For instance, Senator Cory Booker, from New Jersey spent over $4.6 million within 4 months during the special election in 2013. According to Steinhauser & Yoon (2013), during 2012, the average cost that winning candidates spent during an election year was $10.3 million. If that’s not enough to make you scream out the window, the Vital Statistics on Congress reported that it typically takes an average of $1.6 million to win a House seat, and reportedly that is an increase of 344% since 1986 (2013), and that doesn’t include advertising from candidates from the State and Local elections…now that makes me not only scream out the window, but also contemplate whether I should jump.

If I wanted to start a dialogue on the political realities in America I would likely talk about the premise that you either have money or have the ability to raise money in order to serve your community or nation as a public servant. Just to be clear, I believe this is a sad truth that most us of know; however some of us still hold on to the idea that if you dream and work hard enough, you can grow up to be President one day…well maybe, but raising about $40 million will go a lot further in attaining your goal. Depressing.


Since I am screaming about political advertising, lets review the one thing that effects every one that has a mailbox or mail slot – direct mail advertising. As time approaches Election Day, mailboxes are crammed full of last minute political messaging, as if we haven’t heard or seen it before. As noted by Issenberg (2011), traditionally campaign managers stockpile funds for a last minute deluge of advertisements aimed at the undecided voters. Considering TV and radio ads are normally booked, the most reliable and economical media is direct mail…lovely. Just when you thought everyone was moving to the digital arena, campaign managers, outside fundraisers, and political party affiliates continue to turn to mailers, mainly because of cost and the connection with their audience. According to the Federal Election Commission reports, the political machine spent at least $150 million on direct mail during the 2014 election cycle.

So with that said, when is enough, enough? In other words, how many spaghetti noodles do you throw on a refrigerator until one sticks? Who knows…and apparently campaign managers don’t have the answer either.


Federal Election Commission (2014). Retrieved from http://www.fec.gov/press/campaign_finance_statistics.shtml

Issenberg, S. (2011). The secret weapon of modern political campaigns: The mail. Slate. Retrieved from http://www.slate.com/articles/news_and_politics/victory_lab/2011/12/ u_s_postal_service_changes_how_they_ll_affect_the_2012_campaign.html

Malbin, M., Mann, T., Ornstein, N., & Wakeman, R. (2013). Vital statistics on Congress. Brookings and the American Enterprise Institute. Retrieved from http://www.brookings.edu/research/reports/2013/07/vital-statistics-congress-mann-ornstein

Parti, T. (2014). An unlikely survivor in the digital age: Direct mail. Politico. Retrieved from http://www.politico.com/story/2014/08/an-unlikely-survivor-in-the-digital-age-direct-mail-109673.html

Steinhauser, P., & Yoon, R. (2013). Cost to win congressional election skyrockets. CNN Politics. Retrieved from www.cnn.com/2013/07/11/politics/congress-election-costs/

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  1. Bob Simpson says:

    Great and topical post, Darlene, and one I think we can all relate to. It’s impossible to ignore that every time I’ve gone to the mailbox over the last few weeks, I can expect to pull out 5-6 giant direct mail post cards from candidates, none of which I will read. In fact one of my favorite parts of the day is taking those direct mailings, walking right to my garbage can, and dumping them in before I step foot in my house. Direct advertising has no place in my home, I declare!

    Your post made me think of an episode from one of the later seasons of The West Wing. Though the show was often too idealistic for its own good, and this is an example, I enjoyed some of the commentary on campaign spending. One episode featured a presidential hopeful, played by Jimmy Smits, who basically had no money in the chest. Instead of keeping in line with the other candidates, Smits and his campaign booked a few minutes on a local news show, cut what professional wrestlers would call a “sick promo,” and walked out. The message, not the pomp and circumstance or the money thrown behind it, became the story. The boldness of the move, and the uniqueness of the message stood out. I always felt that was an interesting, and often unfollowed point in the political arena. Politicians are so quick to fall in line with the message of their party that they ignore that the message itself is what will set them apart from the other candidates.

    • Darlene says:

      Very funny Bob, and you made an excellent point using West Wing (one of my favorites). I remember that episode and like you said, WW was idealistic, but also hopeful. An honest story, storytelling in politics could be so much more effective if they spoke to the camera without the backdrops or the sprinkle of every color of the rainbow giving “grips and grins”.
      Yes, the time is near to end the parade of mailbox to dumpster (recyclable of course)…November 4th here we come!
      Thanks for dropping by.

    • Linda says:

      Thank you for reaching into my head and pulling out my frustrations with what seemed like an endless stream of political messages from all fronts! The biggest pet peeve for me was the tons of card stock pieces shoved into my mailbox. Save a tree for heavens sake! Honestly, the more I received the less I wanted to pay attention to the message they were trying to get across. I realize that politicians need to get their word out but there is so much noise and clutter these days, that I’m less inclined to absorb any of it.


      • Darlene says:

        Indeed Linda!
        You’re right on and what’s worse is I have to sort through all the card stock to actually get to my real mail. Like most, I gather it up without reading and head straight to the garage.
        thanks for stopping by!

  2. Natalie says:

    Hi Darlene,
    Very timely topic. I am going to tell you something that may freak you out. Have you noticed that when you early vote all of the sudden you stop receiving direct mail? Campaign managers have access to voting records (not how you voted but when), and they can weed you out of the mailing list once you’ve voted. As an elected official myself (albeit on a small local board), there is a method to the mail that you receive. If you vote often (like in the midterm elections too) you are a prime target for mailers over others who are sporadic voters or only vote during a presidential election.
    A new trend is to send customized mail out to voters based on your demographics, because it is a big business for companies who track information on voters (they sell address lists and possible preference based on your demographics to campaigns and PAC’s).
    I find that the mailers don’t often have substantive information on them, especially those from PAC’s. However the ones directly from candidates often have real information about their platform, and they are sometimes helpful for gleaning information that affects my decisions.
    I often do look at candidates websites for information as well.
    I guess I shouldn’t get you started on all of the TV campaign ads.

    • Darlene says:

      Thanks Natalie, I hope you don’t litter beautiful lake side community with mailers proclaiming VOTE FOR NATALIE! I didn’t know that by me exercising my Constitutional Rights creates a deluge of mailers! I was in charge of Navy advertising for Northern California and Southern Nevada and I was heavy into direct mail to any household with kids between the ages of 16-22…maybe Karma is working her magic.
      Thanks for the info and for stopping by for a chat!

  3. Nick Kubik says:

    I agree that this is a timely and well presented post, Darlene. Although I have not personally seen many of the ads, I do hear the people around me complaining. I like Bob’s example of the West Wing series of episodes during the election. It is a great example of of how it could be, not how it is now. I also think its interesting, from someone who hasn’t seen many ads, that the media itself is catching on and discussing the campaign ads, and their expense, on the air. It’s not just the public that sees it, so when will politicians?

    • Darlene says:

      Nick, great observation – when will politicians get it? Consider yourself lucky in that you’re not bombarded with mailbox misinformation for months on end. The amount of money spent on advertising is disgusting to say the least. I still think about someone that has something great to offer our country being denied because they don’t have the capital or the stomach for such nastiness…I know, I’m idealistic. Thanks for stopping by to discuss!

  4. Meradyth says:

    You make a great point and one that living in DC I feel as if I’m constantly living not just around election time. haha. Now that we’re done a couple of research classes, I want to see the stats from these commercials and compare the results to the amount of money that spent. Even though these ads are extremely annoying, I think it would be fascinating to view how effective they are and what type of messaging truly influences the voters. I know the networks LOVE election time because of the large amount of air time they purchase at the last minute, which makes it even more experience. But at some point voters begin to ignore the noise and no matter what the message they don’t care anymore. Great post!

    • Darlene says:

      Thanks Meradyth, especially coming from someone inside the beltway!
      Your point regarding the stats is on target and its sad that the stats shows that money talks…so as Michael Nesmith (Monkeys) sang,” the hits, they just keep comin'” or I guess I should say the “ads”.
      I would say that many Americans ignore the noise after awhile…but do we? Instead of looking at stats, I would like to see what subliminal messaging experts have to say.
      Thanks for stopping by!

  5. Anamaria says:

    Very timely indeed. I just threw away about 20 election-related mail pieces without so much as a second thought. I even had someone campaigning door-to-door in my neighborhood for a Dem candidate. Funny thing is, as she was chatting with me, my husband walked to the door and listened. After I closed the door and she left, he said “my vote is just going to cancel out yours anyway” and it usually does. All that money campaigning would be much better spent elsewhere. Sadly, the world where campaign money goes to feed the hungry or to create affordable housing just doesn’t exist.

    • Darlene says:

      Anamaria, I think more households are like ours, my husband says the same thing! We may share our lives but we DON’T share our opinions on politics!
      You’re spot on regarding the wasted monies and how it could be better spent. I guess it will require all of us, the People to demand campaign reform, real reform. I don’t think we’re asking for Utopia but a little common sense would be nice.
      Thanks for taking the time to stop by for a post!

  6. Dominic says:


    I’m equally upset! But to play devil’s advocate for a moment, there are some people who do not follow politics at all. Therefore, direct mailers, although extremely slanted, could create some political awareness to a person who does not know anything about politics. With that said, with smartphones and other easy to use devices, there is no reason not to be informed these days about candidates, and the mailers need to stop, great blog!

    • Darlene says:

      Thanks Natalie, I hope you don’t litter beautiful lake side community with mailers proclaiming VOTE FOR NATALIE! I didn’t know that by me exercising my Constitutional Rights creates a deluge of mailers! I was in charge of Navy advertising for Northern California and Southern Nevada and I was heavy into direct mail to any household with kids between the ages of 16-22…maybe Karma is working her magic.
      Thanks for the info and for stopping by for a chat!

    • Darlene says:

      Yes Dominic, we need more people to be upset! You are so right, so many people are working two jobs, raising families and trying to just survive, so it is likely that tons of people are not informed nor do they have time to get informed…and that is what campaign managers are hoping for! Vote by headlines! Yikes!
      The last place voters should go to get educated on the issues is the direct mailers.
      Goodness knows I don’t have the answer, but I do know that I am sick of mailers and sick of money being the primary variable to win an election to serve our citizenry. Thanks for stopping by to chat!

  7. Ryan says:


    Your blog struck a nerve with me, but it was not the politics, it was the mail. I HATE mail. Every coupon, every fake letter, and every credit card offer. I have half of it here sitting on my desk waiting to be shreded. I get the convenience of mail, but can’t wait for the day it is gone forever. Every time I open it I think about the waste of money marketers and entrepreneurs are spending on this old school way of promotion. Does it really work? Are enough people coming into stores to cover the cost and pull a profit? I can’t imagine so. However, when it comes to running for office, mail is where it’s at. The elderly vote and they love mail. This is why we get flooded. People who like being communicated with through mail are voters. So until their time comes….We must deal with our binders of mail.

    • Darlene says:

      I can’t say that I hate mail, I love when I get a letter (as rare as that is) and I do love to get some magazines in hard copy, but I agree with you that most of the mail these days is junk.
      Your comment regarding elderly voters may be true, but I’m not elderly…not yet and if they are targeting elderly why would they waste their advertising money on anyone other than elderly? What is elderly anyway? I know 70 and 80 year olds that still surf and ride their cruiser around town and the last thing they want to do is sort through a bunch of crap mailers. The reason is because it’s cheap…at least cheaper than TV and radio. Sure, there are some that like to receive those mailers but I challenge that they represent a vast majority. I am with you on the coupons but I must admit I enjoy the Macys’ coupon cards every now and again. Really enjoyed your comments Ryan, thanks for stopping by.

  8. Graham says:

    Darlene, Great speech and I agreed with what you had to say about it. Congress’ spending has long been out of control and elections are such a huge problem. Spending around elections has long been an untamed influence within government. Stopping the rampant spend on campaign advertising probably isn’t going to happen soon but I do think this is something we should be mad about. Unfortunately these tactics get results. It’s getting increasingly difficult to influence most people this way. Some say we’re desensitized to it and they may be right. Mary Seligman came up with a psychology theory that I wrote about a lot while I was studying political science in my undergrad. “Learned Helplessness” describes a feeling that one can’t do anything to change their circumstances. The experiments that proved the theory were horrifying but insightful. When I think about elections I often am reminded of this school of thought in psychology. Regardless of political affiliations just about everyone can agree that the media has a part to play in it all. I think asking for more from media from time to time might be a step in the right direction. I think media can be a powerful tool for change but to quote Gil Scott Heron “The revolution will not be televised.”

    • Darlene says:

      Graham! Awesome response addressing the problem in a macro sense. Yes, Learned Helplessness seems an appropriate theory to apply. I would also like to see what the experts say about subliminal messaging or Pavlov’s theory applying Classical Conditioning.
      Also, media should be penalized for the perpetuation of misinformation, however since media for the most part is owned by the corporations that are spitting this mess out, I doubt that we will see an end to this madness…
      Gil Scott Heron?! What? Man, did I listen to his vibe back in the day!
      Thanks for the insight Graham, loved it!