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Alexander Burns, "Obama super PAC to advertise in Ohio", Politico 2/28/2012:

The pro-Obama super PAC Priorities USA Action is poised to start airing ads in Ohio, according to a source monitoring the 2012 air war.

Priorities USA has already put down $61,530 in the Columbus media market for a flight running March 1-6. That's a small sum compared with what Republican groups are spending — the Romney super PAC Restore Our Future has a $1,130,750 TV and radio flight running Feb. 27-March 6 — but it's probably going to be enough to drive a narrative Democrats are looking for.

When I read this, I interpreted flight as referring to a sort of flock or swarm of political ads, connected to sense 8. of flight in the OED, "A collection or flock of beings or things flying in or passing through the air together". That's the sense behind the phrase "a tasting flight", in which flight is a calque for French volée (the etymological ancestor of volley).

But apparently I was wrong.

AdGlossary  defines Ad Flight as "The duration of time for which an advertising campaign is live". And other examples on the web are consistent with this meaning, e.g. "DNC Launches New National Cable Ad Flight for 2010 Congressional Cycle", Stimulating Broadband 9/12/2010:

Allen reports the spot will run as a one week flight, while Meckler states the the ad will run for "several days."

Or Tobe Berkovitz, "Political Media Buying: A Brief Guide", 1996:

Known as flighting, decisions must be made to determine when the advertising schedule will be aired.

Few campaigns can afford to run television and radio flights continuously from the start of the campaign until election day. […]

Flighting is the third method of creating an advertising schedule. The phrase advertising flight describes the time when commercials are aired. When flighting is used in relation to a scheduling technique, it refers to a method that has advertising going on and off the air. The advantage of the flighting technique is that it allows a campaign that does not have funds for running spots continuously to conserve money and maximize the impact of the commercials by airing them at key strategic times during the campaign.

Frequently when flighting is employed, radio or cable TV will be used to supplement the advertising campaign during the times when television commercials are off the air. […]

The media buy begins with the selection of specific programs and stations. All decisions for how many spots to place within each program or daypart are done on a week by week basis. An advertising flight consists of a specified number of weeks.

Or again, Nicole Meade, "Political and Issue Advertising", 5/31/2011:

Experience says in retail media buying and planning one must contact stations, request avails and notify stations of the client, flight dates, and demo. […]

Political windows are one unique aspect to political media buying – 45 days before a primary race the political window opens up and 60 days before the general election the window reopens.  During that time the stations must give candidates the lowest rate a station has to offer for a specific time period. When stations send candidate cards they must have the various levels of rates that will clear. The lowest rate is supposed to go to the candidate if the flight falls into the window.

So maybe this usage is really more closely related to OED sense 6.a. "The distance which a bird can or does fly" or 6.b. "The distance to which a missile may be shot" — even though these refer to space rather than time.


  1. Coby Lubliner said,

    February 29, 2012 @ 5:25 pm

    Flight can also be "[a] round of competition, as in a sports tournament" (AHD). So it could be a matter of treating electoral politics as a competitive sport — not unheard of.

    What I don't know is where "wine flight" came from.

  2. evilado said,

    February 29, 2012 @ 7:01 pm

    I immediately took it to be 1.g." a journey through the air or through space"

    All the usages that are in bold still work if we imagine an ad to be a banner literally flying above a city. Since radio waves and broadcasts of an ad are more or less intangible, the comparison to airplane flights seems to line up. Both an ad and a plane are in the air during a flight, seems close enough for me.

  3. RodMcGuire said,

    February 29, 2012 @ 7:17 pm

    It also might be related slightly to "flighty" – the ads can be on again, off again rather than consistently appearing for the entire duration of the campaign.

  4. Eric P Smith said,

    February 29, 2012 @ 7:33 pm

    On starting to read Mark’s post, I had no idea what flight might mean in this context. On reading the AdGlossary definition "The duration of time for which an advertising campaign is live", I thought, "Ah, yes, a window".

    On continuing to read the post, I was reminded that an odd thing is happening nowadays with the concept of a time window, and I hope I am not going off at an unacceptable tangent if I air my thoughts on that.

    As I understand it, a window in this sense originally meant the time span between one moment in time and a subsequent moment in time. If I say "I have a window in my diary from 2pm until 3pm" I am using the term in that sense. In soccer, a transfer window is a period of a few weeks in which players may legally be transferred from one club to another. At one point in Mark’s quote from "Political and Issue Advertising", Nicole Meade uses the term window in that sense when she talks about a flight falling into a window.

    But it seems to me that in recent years the term is being used in a different metaphor. Notice that Nicole Meade says "45 days before a primary race the political window opens up and 60 days before the general election the window reopens." The first time I heard the word used in that sense, it was in a sentence like "the transfer window opens on 1 January and closes on 31 January". My reaction was "No, the transfer window is the time span from 1 January to 31 January. It is not some separate entity which opens on 1 January and closes on 31 January."

    But I guess the newer usage is now firmly established.

  5. John said,

    February 29, 2012 @ 7:36 pm

    I'm familiar with the sports usage and in that context the advertising usage is perfectly understandable. A flight is a grouping in time.

    Nothing to see here. Move along.

  6. Alacritas said,

    March 1, 2012 @ 1:51 am

    @Eric P Smith: "[…] and I hope I am not going off *at* an unacceptable tangent […]"

    Would you normally say "to go off *at* a tangent"? For me, it's "to go off *on* a tangent". Just curious as to whether this was a typo or how you say it.

    @John: "Nothing to see here. Move along."

    Maybe for you… I personally had never heard this usage, so I found this post quite interesting.

    Keep posting words that are new to you, Mark! Thanks for the share.

    @Eric P Smith:

  7. Victor said,

    March 1, 2012 @ 3:52 am

    Strange–I would have though it to signify duration, in a sense, being short for "flight time". But that seems to be wrong as well. Rather, I would return to the original suggestion that it is a "cluster" of ads/spots all purchased at the same time. Over time, this might have evolved into "duration". There are two things at play here–there may be more than one advertisement created for the campaign, which has absolutely nothing to do with the duration, and the spots are supposed to run repeatedly during the period. In fact, most of the time, campaigns not only specify the time when a spot is to be run (e.g., during early evening news), but also the number of times, the relationship to particular segments and/or other advertising (e.g., there is evidence that Romney's SuperPAC bought ad time at Florida TV stations during the run-up to the primary this year specifically to bookend other candidates' ads). So you may be buying a duration, but you're also buying a cluster. This may go back to newspaper advertising, where buying a flight would get you a placement in a fixed number of editions, not merely on specific dates. Of course, having so many different meanings, this is not a word that is easy to track.

  8. Colin John said,

    March 1, 2012 @ 8:32 am

    @Alacritas 'At a tangent' is normal for me (BrE speaker). 'On a tangent' is perfectly comprehensible but I have rarely, if ever, heard it.

  9. Mr Punch said,

    March 1, 2012 @ 10:23 am

    Window — There are of course physical windows that open and close at specified times, e.g., ticket windows, cashiers' windows, and figurative extension is natural. There is a closely related but slightly different usage, in sports, politics and elsewhere, that relates to "window of opportunity." Thus, for example, it is said that "the window has closed for the Boston Celtics [basketball team]" because of the aging of their star players.

  10. Plegmund said,

    March 1, 2012 @ 10:38 am

    The time during which the ads are 'on the air'?

  11. BZ said,

    March 1, 2012 @ 11:41 am

    I never heard this usage before, but I guessed correctly from context on first try.

  12. Jerry Friedman said,

    March 1, 2012 @ 2:12 pm

    It reminds me of "flight of arrows", which must be the first meaning MYL cited—but maybe I'm being misled by my prejudice that political ads are harmful to their "targets".

    I can see "flight of ads" back to 1972 at Google Books. Not to mention this sentence from 1901:

    Many useful additions have, indeed, been made to the Pharmacopeia in recent years, and they have been warmly welcomed by the profession ; but what opinion are we to form of the host of mysterious compounds with impossible names, and their accompanying flight of advertisements,

    Thick as autumnal leaves that strew the brooksOf Vallombrosa,

    which find readers or they would not be printed?

    "Advertising flight" goes back to 1960, here, but "Flight purchasing" doesn't help determine whether the author is thinking of the group of ads or the time, and in general people might not be concerned with that distinction.

    Nothing personal, by the way, but I would not hire Tobe Berkovitz to write copy.

  13. Jerry Friedman said,

    March 1, 2012 @ 2:13 pm

    Darn it, forgot that the br tag works only in preview.

  14. Ken Brown said,

    March 1, 2012 @ 11:36 pm

    Definitely "at a tangent" here for me.

    And I don't remember ever seeing this use of the word "flight" before, and I didn't get it from context. I was tending to think of it as a set or cluster or swarm of things, as in a flight of missiles or whatever a Flight Commander is in command of. I also had "flyting" at the back of my mind, one meaning of which is a ritualised exchange of insults or a bragging match, which sounds appropriate. And even "flitting", as if the word might mean a group of campaigners suddenly turning up in Ohio, doing campaign things, and just as suddenly leaving. Which The West Wing assures me is how US Presidential election campaigns are conducted.

    So its a new word for me.

  15. Margalit Zabludowski said,

    March 3, 2012 @ 4:20 pm

    The noun and verb are also used in the context of testing various features on a website – not jus ads. I was introduced to this usage while contracting at Bing (Microsoft). I am not sure if and how it is used elsewhere, but at Bing is seems to be official terminology.
    Here is roughly how the terms are used: when a new feature is to be introduced on the live Bing site, the feature is tested on some subset of users. Usually, flighting a feature means trying the feature on various subsets of users by varying different micro settings to see which setting or combination of settings is optimal. The purpose of flighting in this sense is testing a feature on a small subset of users before making the feature live.
    The process is temporary (i.e. occurs prior to a full release of the feature to the general public).
    The process of flighting a given fetaure usually consists of running multiple flights, each flight testing a different combination of settings.
    A "feature", by the way, translates to some behavior of the website. A feature is distinct from other features from an internal management point of view. That is, there is NOT a one to one correspondence between what Bing considers to be a feature internally and what a user of the site might consider to be a distinct visual effect or functionality.

    random quote found on Google from: http://www.bing.com/community/site_blogs/b/search/archive/2011/02/10/making-search-yours.aspx

    "We’re currently ‘flighting’ (or “testing”, for non search-geeks) a raft of experiments to see which techniques deliver the best results for a given user behavior, but today we want to talk about two we’ve recently put out there for you all! "

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