Last month the Internet Archive launched its new Political TV Ad Archive. Just in time for the kickoff of primary season. So far the site has amassed over 30,000 ad airings, each accompanied by underlying, downloadable data on how often it has aired, where, and when in 20 TV markets throughout eight key primary states. But that’s not all–ads are also linked to fact-checking and follow-the-money journalism by the project’s partners: the American Press Institute, the Center for Responsive Politics, the Center for Public Integrity, the Duke Reporters’ Lab, FactCheck.org, PolitiFact, and The Washington Post’s Fact Checker. Explains Nancy Watzman, Managing Editor of the Internet Archive’s Television Archive: “The ad collection also gathers instances where news broadcasts have played excerpts of ads or even entire ads as part of their reporting — in other words, “earned media.” For example, Trump’s first ad, which focused on immigration, was aired several times as part of news reports. On the new website, each ad is archived on its own page, along with downloadable metadata on how often the ad has aired, on which TV stations, where, and when. These data also include information on who is sponsoring the ad, the subject(s) covered in the ad, which candidates are targeted in the ad, and the type of legal designation of the sponsor — e.g., super PAC, campaign committee, 501(c), and so on.”
The website also features links to other complementary resources such as Political Ad Sleuth and the Wesleyan Media Project, and a blog with informative posts such as Five negative ads with big air time in New Hampshire and When is an ad an ad? Or, lessons along the way, to pull up two recent ones.
It’s been a pleasure to watch the resource environment for political campaign ads steadily grow over the years but with this archive tracking not just ads but airing instances, including how particular ads reverberate in the media, I’d say the research landscape has been transformed. Students used to pose questions about political advertising influence but for lack of data would often have to back off and pursue more general questions and approaches, or stick to content analysis. Now they can dive into specific markets and see which ads are doing the heavy lifting or combine content analyses with broadcasting data that is free and right at their fingertips.