Buyer Beware: Political Advertising And Local Media in 2014

Brace yourself, as we enter the 2014 mid-term election cycle, for the larger impact political advertising will have on local media markets. Now that those high-profile court cases have removed many restrictions on spending, there will be no shortage of deep-pocketed advertisers fighting it out for media inventory this year.

“How bad can it be?” you may be thinking. “After all, it’s not a presidential election year.” Expect a crowd. A big crowd.

There will be U.S. Senate races in 33 states. If it’s an open race, both parties will be selecting a candidate during the primary – creating more competition for inventory.  As usual, all 435 Congressional seats will also be in play. And there will be gubernatorial elections in 38 states, many coinciding with Senate races.

To complicate matters further, nearly 60% of all funding is coming from out-of-state sources. Case in point: Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell’s (R-TN) battle to neutralize Tea Party attacks during the primary drew over $10 million of out-of-state money.



What’s more, Harmelin’s Media’s analysis of TV data from Kantar Media shows that political advertising accounts for nearly 50% of all spot expenditures in the final weeks of an election.

All of which indicates that media buyers and clients can expect serious challenges once the mudslinging begins:

  • Rate increases (between 12%-18% for local broadcast TV) 
  • Inventory squeezes on all TV dayparts, and especially in early morning, early news, late news, early fringe and prime access
  • Pre-emptions of existing schedules 
  • Issue advertisers paying premiums to guarantee their placement, bumping your clients from their ideal slots
  • New pressures on targeted digital media too, now that it’s not the best kept secret
  • Viewer fatigue from the political barrage

What can we do to mitigate the effect of political spending on spot TV? Here are some practical ways to lessen the impact.

Monitor political activity in your clients’ markets

Become an expert on the political contests in markets where your clients advertise. Races for federal, state and local elections – as well as state/local ballot initiatives – can influence a market’s value and boost rates. Heavy political spends due to exorbitant prices or a lack of  target rating points may make some markets unsupportable.

Consider avoiding political season

Whether it means taking a hiatus, or moving to positions before or after campaigns end, spot TV schedules should run only in the final two weeks of an election, and only if messaging or promotion is essential during that time. Of course, before and after that window is where you may find everyone else. So arrive early.

Avoid news

The three news dayparts (Early Morning/Evening/Late Night) will be most heavily affected by political spending. Adjust your daypart mixes – especially in the final three to four weeks prior to an election – by reducing or eliminating spending and TRPs in news. Do that not only to avoid rate increases, but also because nearly one in two spots will be a political ad. Why place clients in the middle of that clutter, or expose them to an environment that can negatively impact an ad’s effectiveness?

Buy early

Whenever possible, purchase spot TV early to manage rate increases and maintain planned schedules. Long-term planning and buying can help you get ahead of politicals, and may lessen rate increases, that will certainly be accelerating.

But plan to be pre-empted

We hate to contradict what we just said, but in season candidates and issue advertisers get preference over all others – regardless of how far in advance a schedule was booked. Thus, advertisers and their agencies should be prepared to manage pre-empt notices, have a plan in place for identifying acceptable makegoods, and allow for spots to air outside originally intended on-air weeks.

Beware of major events

NFL season, college football season and MLB post-season all occur during the key weeks leading up to the general election. Which makes them prized targets for candidates and issue advertisers chasing a broad male audience. That’s especially true when the teams are playing in key battleground states.

There is life beyond spot TV and there are ways to buy around the political spending logjam. If necessity is the mother of invention, now would be an excellent time to be inventive in diverting spends from traditional TV campaigns to alternate channels.

Digital--While some options with hyper-local targeting capabilities, such as Pandora and Facebook, will attract serious political ad dollars, broader targeting platforms,  such as display and video ad networks,  paid search and the like will not. Shifting from TV to online video may help increase reach while also placing ads in a less crowded environment.

Radio--Although radio does account for 14% of all political ad spending, there’s less stress on inventory in radio than in television.

Print--Only five percent of political ad spending is attributable to print media. And yet, among some consumer segments, newspaper readership may be more attentive during an election cycle as voters turn to editorials and reporting for guidance.

Lifestyle/Creative Messaging--Offering an alternative experience will be a breather from the political frenzy. Developing events or viral marketing campaigns that disassociate a brand from the political discourse can be an opportunity to connect with politics-weary consumers.

3 comments about "Buyer Beware: Political Advertising And Local Media in 2014".
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  1. Dominick Porco from Adspace Mall Network, July 22, 2014 at 4:59 p.m.


    Have you been living in a cave? There are dozens of Nielsen measured digital place based networks available with plenty of video options. Why in the world did you not mention them when you suggested clients look at alternative options?

    Dominick Porco

  2. Gordon Borrell from Borrell Associates, July 23, 2014 at 10:01 a.m.

    Just assessed the totals....a whopping $8 billion this year, and quite a bit of it spread among local markets. However, less than 4% of the total is going to online media buys, so online is still relatively puny compared with the money plowed into TV and direct mail. Here's the summary:

  3. Jorge Ortiz from Precision Market Insights from Verizon, July 23, 2014 at 11:25 a.m.

    You mentioned Digital as an option - I believe Mobile will play a big role before and during the election. Being able to find and reach the right voter, with the right message is a key benefit to the candidates and political parties. As more targeting solutions become available the mobile channel will become a necessity not just an opportunity.

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