Election ad war -- George Bush and Bill Clinton monitor each other's political TV commercials

By Leslie Savan
October 09, 1992 at 04:00 AM EDT

In the weeks before the election, the TV ad war between President Bush and Bill Clinton turns to new weaponry: a technology, introduced only nine months ago, that uses ”audio pattern recognition” to determine where and when the opposition runs commercials.

While the Bush camp has bought time on the networks — in addition to some local buys — for the commercials it has made, Clinton’s campaign has produced at least eight ads and bought time primarily in local markets nationwide. Local ads are cheaper and harder to keep track of because they’re purchased on a station-by-station basis. Enter Broadcast Data Systems, a company the Republicans have hired, according to sources, to sniff out the Democrats ads. The company’s computer is fed a digitalized soundtrack of a Clinton commercial. ”Once we’ve taught a computer what an ad sounds like,” says a BDS associate, ”it searches the top 80 markets for that pattern.” About 425 TV stations are monitored around the clock and a report is delivered daily, allowing the GOP to determine where to launch counterattacks.

BDS wouldn’t confirm whether the Bush-Quayle campaign was its client, and the campaign itself offered this familiar audio pattern: ”We wouldn’t talk about it even if we did it.” Are the Dems also tracing the airwaves? James Carville, Clinton’s top campaign adviser, wasn’t sure, so he called out into the Little Rock, Ark., headquarters: ”Do we program a spot into a computer to find out where Bush is running ads?” One voice shouted, ”No!” Another yelled, ”Yes!” In this election, you almost need a computer to tell you what the computers are doing.