Political Advertising Landscape: Looking Toward 2016 And Beyond

In the political advertising realm, TV is still king. Of the $11.4 billion in political projected ad spending in 2016 reported by Borrell Associates, about 51% is expected to be spent on TV ads. Digital advertising, while increasing significantly over the past years, will only account for 9.5%, adding up to just over $1 billion.

Other ad industries have upped their online media spending to 30% or even 50% of total ad budgets. Due to the wide rage of demographics politicians try to reach, the movement toward digital has been significantly slower. The Borrell report does predict an exponential increase in political spending online for 2020, where there is an expectation that $3.2 billion will be spent.

This $1 billion projected spending on digital for 2016 is an impressive 500% increase from the 2012 election and a staggering 5,000% increase since 2008. Most candidates, however, are still pouring the bulk of their cash into TV ads, some with little to no success.



Jeb Bush has aired 16,745 ads as of Dec. 14, compared to none aired by the Donald Trump campaign. Here we see the immense importance of both earned media and name recognition. Trump’s successful use of both strategies has earned him top spot in the polls, endearing him to staunch anti-establishment and anti-big-donor voters.

Bush leads the race for the White House in TV ads aired, followed by the top two Democratic candidates. Hillary Clinton has put up 14,217 ads and Bernie Sanders has aired 8,309.

Ted Cruz has been using his cash strategically, having aired only 637 ads. Between his campaign and super PACs, Cruz has only spent $14.2 million so far, and has over $50 million in cash on hand. Compare this to Ben Carson, who has aired over 5,400 ads and spent a total of around $25 million.

As far as radio goes, spending on the airwaves will increase from about $807 million in 2012 to around $827 million in 2016, again according to Borrell. Despite the slight increase in total spending, radio’s share of the pot is decreasing. We’re expecting a drop from 8.7% in 2012 of total political ad spend to 7.3% in 2016.

It seems clear that, moving forward, campaign strategies will have to focus increasingly on the digital space. Cruz has done this very well this cycle, as President Obama did in 2008 and 2012. TV advertising will continue to dominate the landscape, but we are on the verge of a paradigm shift into online media marketing.

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