Is The Political Ad Dead? Depends How You Look At It

The definition of a political ad has morphed over the past few electoral cycles, as digital media have become ubiquitous across all demographics, and especially younger age groups.

But is the political ad dead?

That was the provocative question asked of a panel of executives in the political and media space at an Advertising Week event on Thursday. According to the panelists, there are different approaches to the question, and no real consensus.

Jim Anderson, CEO at SocialFlow, thinks that the traditional political ad is on “life support,” pointing particularly to the diminishing clout of the 30-second TV ad.

Conversely, Matthew Hiltzik, founder of strategic communications firm Hiltzik Strategies, said that the political ad is now more effective, with the multitude of new outlets and creative strategies available to political marketers.

Taking a different approach, Vivian Schiller, former president and CEO of NPR and head of news and partnerships at Twitter, answered the question with a question: “What is a political ad in 2016?”



Scott Goodstein, founder and CEO of Revolution Marketing, who worked on both the Obama and Sanders campaigns, approaches political advertising from various angles: “Campaigns need to spend on the channels where their prospective voters are. Facebook users are not the same as Snapchat or Instagram users, and definitely not the same as those that watch cable TV. The messaging needs to reflect the medium."

Emerging media has changed the political advertising game, and incorporates different channels we might not immediately think of as pure advertising into the mix.

For example, “Obama voters wanted to watch full stump speeches, not just clips,” Goodstein said. “Using Twitter and other social media, we could link voters to those speeches and engage potential voters the way they wanted to engage with our candidate.”

To some, that might not look or feel like pure advertising. But if we’re defining an ad as a piece of media that grabs voters’ interest and might compel them to vote, the tweet that sends a user to a Web site or video functions just that way.

So is a tweet an ad? Maybe. A promoted tweet is definitely an ad, but with a 12-million or 9-million following like Trump and Clinton have on Twitter, respectively, a simple tweet serves much the same purpose as a TV ad, just for a different demographic. Likewise with Instagram or Snapchat posts.

The real answers will come as political marketers develop ad strategies for the 2018 midterms and the 2020 general election. How much more money will be poured into digital? How much money will remain on cable and broadcast? Most interestingly, what new technology will be prevalent enough to grab political dollars: VR, AR, wearables?

A certain kind of political ad may be on its deathbed, but a reincarnation is just around the corner.

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