How brands can navigate political season media buying

Consumers might be tiring of political advertisements, but the data shows there’s no end in sight.

Political ad spending has grown 27 percent, on average per year, since 2012, which is due in large part to the landmark Citizens United 2010 Supreme Court decision that significantly reduced regulation on political ad spending. To put things into perspective, the 2008 election had an ad investment of about $2.6 billion, while this year the total political ad spend will be around $10 billion, according to The Wall Street Journal.

No matter the election outcome, ad spend will continue to increase. This means marketers will need to spend more time strategizing how to best navigate the ever-changing political influence landscape and rising spot costs.    

With that comes the need to effectively execute TV ads, since they occupy the lion's share of campaign budgets – almost three quarters of the total budgets are split between broadcast and cable TV.  

Advertisers will see less of an overall impact if their media strategies aren’t diversified enough, like relying on one segment or specific cable nets, and can expect to see CPMs increase by as much as 10x.

So, should you just accept all of this and expect to pay a premium during every political ad cycle? Thankfully, the answer is a resounding no. 


Creating a Political Playbook

There are proven methods to maneuver in any political season to ensure that you successfully leverage TV without having to divert budgets to other, more expensive options like digital video.

First, it's imperative for marketers to build a political grid that starts with identifying market-specific political windows and issue topics, which acknowledge whether a state is contested on a national or local level and what is being discussed. Luckily, organizations like the National Conference of State Legislature and outlets like Politico make this easy.

Once the political map is established, the right data sources need to be leveraged to accurately forecast demand cycles. Obvious resources for this data include first-party research and third-party data like Nielsen, Kantar, iSpot and trade organizations. If campaign marketers are working with an agency, make sure they have a data warehouse that includes 10+ years of first-party rate, performance and clearance research.  


Political Spending Do’s and Don’ts

With a political playbook in-hand, it’s imperative to pay special attention to predicted spending trends, inventory forecasts, political windows and geographical considerations.

Below are three proven methods to bypass unnecessary cost increases brought on by excessive political ad spending on TV ads.

  1. Diversification of networks and relationships. By limiting reliance on specific stations or markets one can avoid sacrificing access and efficiencies. Begin to pretest a diversification strategy now and create options to ensure you're not forced to take unnecessary risks. 
  2. Flexibility in timing and budget planning allows for campaigns to navigate the harshness of political impacts. Shifting budgets and integrating limited "stand-by" strategies will help to capitalize on last-minute cancellations. 
  3. Applying a "network strategy" to local areas is the best way to avoid a station's Lowest Unit Charge or Lowest Unit Rate policy. Stations will accept lower CPM orders that leverage broad rotations across multiple stations that are packaged as a network.

It’s always good to balance things with what not to do:

  1. Do not accept rate increases at first glance. Networks are known to use the political excuse to artificially inflate the perception of demand. 
  2. Never rely on feedback from only one or two stations or networks and assume it applies to everyone. By exhausting all options, you can find overlooked opportunities that often leads to great ROI.  
  3. Minimize narrow planning targets. Anything from limited markets to specific networks or narrow timelines have the potential to drive up costs and limit profitability.

2020 will set new records in political spending that will impact media investment across the entire country. Creating an effective Political Playbook that leverages the right amount of data and insight will produce the advantage needed to successfully navigate this year’s political window. By pairing the playbook with a suite of reliable strategies will ensure marketers go from surviving to thriving during this political season.