Assembly Stagwell Policy & Regulation

The $3bn question: What brands can learn from political campaigns


By Gordon Young, Editor-in-Chief

May 8, 2024 | 6 min read

In the lead-up to high-stakes election seasons across the globe, political advertising is getting heated.

Gordon Young and Valerie Davis

The Drum's Gordon Young and Assembly's Valerie Davis talked politics at The Drum Live event in New York on Wednesday

In the feverish run-up to the U.S. general elections, political parties are expected to spend a staggering $3bn on media campaigns, signaling not only the high stakes of political power but also the evolving battleground of advertising strategies.

At the heart of this evolution is the convergence of politics and commercial marketing, a topic explored in-depth during a recent episode of The Drum’s podcast series, 'Politics for Drummies,' recorded live in New York as part of The Drum Live event in New York on Wednesday.

Valerie Davis, CEO of Assembly, a Stagwell-owned omnichannel media agency, sat down with Gordon Young, co-founder of The Drum, to discuss the intricacies of political advertising and its broader implications for brands.

Davis, whose firm handles a hefty portfolio of both political and commercial clients, emphasized the unique demands of today's advertising landscape, stating, “Political advertising impacts all media for all clients, not just during election cycles but across all marketing efforts.”

As brands gear up for their own campaigns, understanding the dynamics of political advertising could provide crucial insights. Davis explained how techniques honed in political arenas, such as real-time response strategies and advanced demographic targeting, are invaluable for brands aiming to navigate the increasingly fragmented media environment.

“We’ve built dashboards and technology that allow us to track not just how candidates are performing but how market sentiments are shifting, almost in real-time,” Davis noted, underscoring the importance of agility in message delivery.

One critical takeaway for brands is the impact of political advertising on market saturation. During election cycles, key battleground states like Arizona, Nevada, and Pennsylvania see a deluge of political ads, which can lead to commercial messages being drowned out. Brands must be strategic about when and where to place their ads to avoid being overshadowed or, worse, inadvertently aligning with a political message that could alienate part of their audience.

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The discussion also touched on the potential ramifications of a TikTok ban, a topic of significant relevance given the platform's substantial reach among younger demographics.Davis expressed concerns about the platform's future, given its prohibition of political advertising and the ongoing scrutiny over data privacy and misinformation. “TikTok has become a critical platform for reaching millennials and Gen Z, who are less responsive to traditional media. The uncertainty around its operational status could significantly disrupt current marketing strategies,” Davis elaborated.

Moreover, the conversation veered into the ethical landscapes navigated by agencies like Assembly. “Our job isn’t to take a political stance but to ensure our clients can engage effectively with their audience,” Davis said, highlighting the delicate balance of maintaining neutrality in a polarized atmosphere. This aspect of political marketing— navigating public sentiment without compromising ethical standards—is particularly pertinent for brands aiming to engage on social issues without appearing insincere or opportunistic.

As brands consider their future advertising strategies, Davis’ insights from the political arena offer a clear message: the need for rapid adaptation to changing media landscapes, understanding audience sentiment in real-time, and navigating the ethical considerations of engagement are more crucial than ever. In an era where consumer attention is a prized commodity, and digital platforms are continually evolving, the lessons from political advertising are not just useful but necessary for staying ahead in a competitive market.

This conversation, a part of The Drum's 'Politics for Drummies' at The Drum Live event, not only highlighted the blurring lines between political campaigns and commercial advertising but also set the stage for a broader discussion on how brands can learn from the high-stakes world of political marketing to better craft their own messages in a rapidly changing digital landscape.

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