When's a good time to put up the tree ad?

Media consultants know they have a captive audience during the holiday season when families gather around the television after dinner wraps and conversation runs dry. But is it worth paying the premium to advertise between Thanksgiving and Christmas? And if you do, should you incorporate the holiday theme monopolized by retailers?

Arkansas Senate candidate Tom Cotton (R) did just that this week, releasing a Christmas-themed ad featuring his mother, Avis Cotton, seated in front of a stocking-strung hearth and a decorated tree. 

Media consultant Brad Todd, whose firm On Message Inc. produced the spot, said it was designed to introduce the congressman to the Jonesboro-Memphis TV market, where he's little known.

Todd brushed off the suggestion that going Christmas in the week leading up to Thanksgiving was too early.

"It's a good time to tell this story," Todd tells C&E. "Every retailer in America is advertising their Christmas sales and Christmas shopping, and come Friday millions of Americans will be putting up their Christmas trees."

The ad is set to run "well into December," says Todd, who admits the campaign is paying a premium to get onto cable and broadcast at a time when ad space is pricey. "We have to be as efficient as we can," he says of the buy.

The ad isn't overtly political, instead relating Avis Cotton's experience while her son and husband were deployed during Christmas with the Army infantry in Afghanistan and Vietnam, respectively. "Most of us know somebody or have a relative who's done that and we just want people to relate to [his mother's] story," says Todd.

Christmas spots can backfire. Another Arkansas politician, Mike Huckabee, famously ran a Christmas-themed ad -- complete with a white cross in the background -- in December 2007 ahead of the Iowa caucuses. The ad fell flat and he was mocked for it.

Cotton's ad, which doesn't feature the freshman congressman except in the disclaimer, hasn't generated the same visceral reaction. In fact, some Democratic media consultants had kind words for it.

"It’s a novel approach and a good ad," says John Rowley, a Tennessee-based Democratic media consultant. "The Christmas theme will probably work because I would expect it to run for two-four weeks. I doubt the Cotton family will be punished for putting their Christmas decorations up too early."

But Rowley wondered about the efficiency of putting up an expensive ad up during a time when voters' attention is anywhere but on politics. 

"The holidays often reset political races and it is the most cluttered time of year on the air," he says. "The real question is, will anyone remember it in February?"


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