Political Ad Tracker: Campaigns Spending More On the Ground Than Online

Last week the Empower team focused on how the campaigns’ media spend to reach Hispanics was not the smartest spend. It’s just one example in an Election 2012 trend we have watched unfold since May. The following 2012 election spend analysis shows the campaigns are sticking with what has worked in the past -- even as consumer habits evolve and they spend more time online at the expense of some of the more traditional channels.

According to Borrell Associates, “TV is getting 57 cents of every $1 spent on election ads. Online, meanwhile, gets just 1.6 cents -- which tallies to $160 million nationwide.”



Online Increased In 2012

While the TV to online spending comparison makes this online spend seem anemic, it’s actually six times higher than it was in 2008. In an election where the most money ever has been spent to win the presidency, the campaigns are also spending more money than ever on online media. As everyone wonders if we’ll have an October Surprise, I’m more curious about how the media spend supports a broader strategy. Our sources note that money is being shifted to a “ground strategy,” taking dollars offline and in person to get voters physically to the polls on November 6th. Experiential marketing, whether it be door-to-door polling, community rallies or other in-person experiences, will be most impactful in ensuring that online buzz can convert to offline votes.

Spending Evolves (Slowly) Behind Consumer Habits

For the most part, comparing election media spending to marketer media spending is a fruitless effort. Super PACs pushing the amounts spent into the record books make this an obvious statement. But there are a few things that can be learned from one another, despite these unique circumstances. At the end of the day, marketers and politicians are investing funds to connect with consumers. And any good media plan considers targeting, environment and past effectiveness. Election 2012 spending patterns seem to follow this on the surface.

And as marketers are encouraged to increase their investment in new channels to test and learn for future efforts, as much as to support current business goals, we see election 2012 spending six times as much online as it did in 2008. The campaigns will gain some insights from this that will be applied to 2016 spending. So while it's clearly lagging, we are seeing the election evolve its spending along with consumer habits. But whether it’s a politician or a brand, we must remember that it isn’t as simple as only lining up spend with a target consumer's time spent with media.


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