The 2016 election cycle proved a seminal one in U.S. political history, particularly at the presidential level. Both in how candidates campaigned and how campaign funds were distributed.
The behavior of Donald Trump is directly related to how paid media fared in the 2016 cycle.
According to Borrell Associates’ “What Happened To Political Advertising in 2016 (and forever)” report, steep gains for digital channels were coupled with a significant decline in spending on broadcast TV.
Overall, political advertising was up marginally (4.6%) cycle-over-cycle, no thanks to the presidential race, where Donald Trump spent 34% less that Mitt Romney’s $1 billion in 2012, amounting to a $340 million shortfall.
Total spend on the 2016 election cycle was $9.8 billion.
Borrell’s report on post-election estimate for 2016 political ad spending is "less than 5% higher than 2012 totals, [shows a dramatically altered] media choice proportion.The changes noted reflect more than tactical shifts by an unorthodox candidate. They point to a new ascendancy in both spending and attention for digital in future elections.”
Trump focused his paid and unpaid media on digital channels, particularly Facebook (paid) and Twitter (unpaid). Further, his derision of mainstream media outlets and the results of the primaries had a serious impact on overall broadcast TV spend, which fell substantially by 19% or $1 billion.
Despite his unfriendly relationship with the press, it still offered copious amounts of free coverage, more than any other candidate. As such, it minimized the need for paid broadcast advertising.
Total spend on digital increased by $1.2 billion from 2012, to a total of $1.41 billion, representing a huge 789% jump.
As the report noted: “Targeting – which holds higher CPMs but allows lower overall spending – ruled. Mobile advertising, which holds perhaps the greatest personal targeting capabilities, garnered about $280 million in spending, or $1 out of every $5 spent in digital ads.”
Going forward, Borrell does not expect particularly significant overall increases in political spending; it projects a meager increase in spending per eligible voter from $40.83 this cycle to $40.87 in 2020.