The upcoming US election is expected to generate around $6bn in political advertising spend according to a new study by Kantar, spend that brands will struggle to compete with.
The study also estimates that the 2019-2020 federal election cycle will see digital ad spending increase significantly, grabbing as much as 20% of total political ad spend, or $1.2bn, while other categories stay more or less consistent. Broadcast, cable television, and radio will procure $3.2bn, $1.2bn, and $400m, respectively.
“Digital remains a wild card when it comes to media spend,” says Kantar, acknowledging that the history has been less than clear. In 2016, for example, the Clinton campaign spent 6% of its media budget on digital, while Sanders and Trump spent as much as 25% and 40% on digital, respectively.
“Overall, an extended Democratic primary fight would likely be a short-term, second quarter 2020 sugar high,” said Steve Passwaiter, general manager for the CMAG service at Kantar’s Media division. “In fact, a long primary and a Democratic convention fight would most likely reduce total campaign spending as it would reduce the amount of time the eventual Democratic nominee would have to raise and spend money for the general election.”
Marketers still face a considerable threat, especially if they are advertising in politically divided markets. The last three weeks of the 2016 campaign season, political advertising totaled 32% of local TV ad time within the battleground markets studied, which included Florida, Indiana, Iowa, Missouri, North Carolina, and Pennsylvania. That’s an increase of 26% from the beginning of the season, according to Kantar. Correspondingly, non-political advertisers watched their share of the market plummet from 77% to 51%, with only station promos holding steady at 17%.
Automotive, which was the highest-spending category, saw the deepest decline, falling from 14% of all ads at the peak of the campaign season to 9% during the weeks right before the election. However, the telecom, education and medical services sectors saw steeper declines, with education advertising’s share cut in half to just 2%.
It isn’t surprising that local television in battleground states has become such a hotbed for competition. “The issues of scale that hindered the use of this platform in previous cycles are now in the past, as the universe has expanded beyond D2 and Comcast’s VOD service, the Kantar report said.
“Accordingly, political advertisers will be able to air more spots on these platforms and thus extend the reach of their messaging and better connect with younger audiences.” During the final weeks of the election season, political advertising stole 43% of available slots on local news in battle-ground markets, as compared to just 10% at the start of the season. Super PACs will make a splash in the advertising market, but whether it will be large or small is still to be determined.
Passwaiter cautions marketers to take a “wait and see” approach: “Not only do the unlimited ways they can raise money add to the overall total, but they pay a premium for television since they do not qualify for the lowest unit rates,” he said. “It will be interesting to see if a Democrat uses them in 2020 as most in the primary have rejected this type of support so far. It will be a struggle for brands to avoid the clutter leading up to the 2020 election. The number of brands advertising on local TV fell 11% from the beginning to the end of the campaign season, while the number of ads they ran fell 26%. This data suggests that brands will react to the flood of political ads by slashing their number of spots rather than abandoning advertising completely.
“This trend indicates that advertisers are trying to at least maintain some presence for their brands during election season, although they are no longer able to run as many ads,” said Jon Swallen, chief research officer at Kantar’s Media division. “Stations may also be trying to make sure they do not shut out local advertisers even as the campaigns drag on.”