October 13, 2020

Navigating the political season—the home stretch

Stacy Anderson

VP, Activation

As a media professional, I have always dreaded planning and buying during the “political season.” While most consumers notice the ads running leading into the actual election, we have to start worrying about the integrity of our buys as soon as the calendar flips to the new year (if not sooner). Political spending wreaks havoc on media plans and buys from limited inventory and higher costs/CPMs (we are looking at a 15 to 30% increase over the next couple of weeks) to bumped TV spots (which may not actually run due to political ads coming in at the last minute and occupying all available inventory). 

Coming into 2020, we knew it was going to be a challenge to get our clients’ messages to the masses. The democratic field was full of some really big spenders (think Bloomberg) as well as lots and lots of races beyond the one for president (think senate, house and governors in addition to local elections). The projections for media spend were almost $10 billion, which is up an astonishing $4 billion since 2016. With that knowledge, we were all working diligently to put the right plans together in order to try and break through to be seen. POVs were written and everything was somewhat normal (at least in a political year), and then the COVID-19 pandemic hit. We shut down, and a significant amount of political media spending ceased. 

Well, it's now October, and while the election is upon us and the ads were slow to return, some thought spending would be down (based on recent fund raising efforts). That is not the case at all. Updated media spending forecasts are out, and it's going to be the biggest political spending year ever (see chart below). Current forecasts are predicting it could reach almost $11 billion. 

So knowing these dollars are usually focused in key states and markets, will likely run on TV, cable, online (mostly video), and a smaller portion on radio, what do we do now? 

The answer? Our POV hasn’t changed, and we will proceed as planned. Here’s what we’re doing moving forward, and why: 

1. Continue investing in the digital space. 

Since the majority of spend is on local TV and cable, advertisers can use digital media as well as the vast amount of data and placements available to avoid political ads (you may have to pay a premium, but at least your ad will run).   

2. Look to place your ads on platforms staying out of the political game. 

Spotify, Healthline, Twitter, Pinterest and LinkedIn are some of the power players not taking the political media dollars.

3. Find the content that best represents your brand (or in other words, avoid news). 

Regarding news, chances are your spot won’t run. But if it does, it could run up against content that would likely offend someone.

4. Have a “DO NOT BUY” list, especially in the digital/programmatic space. 

5. Be flexible and willing to shift or adjust your buy.

6. And finally, if you can wait to get your message out there, consider running it after November 3. 

Other than that, just keep counting down the days ‘til the election is over. Luckily, we are in the home stretch!

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