For the past 30 years, I’ve heard agency media buyers tell clients their schedule did not deliver the projected audience “due to political." This assertion is completely baseless, and one that is devoid of fact-based critical thinking.
To set the record straight, political advertising impacts demand, not audience.
To be sure, the impact of political advertising is massive. MediaPostreported in April 2018 that total political ad spend this year will approach $9 billion and that TV will represent over half ($4.5 billion) of that total.
There is no question that adding that much demand for a limited amount of inventory will have demonstrable repercussions on availability of ad time – which will vary by market, station and daypart.
The impact on demand influences not only inventory availability in some dayparts (i.e. early/late news), but it has cost implications. It is a simple equation: fixed supply with dramatically increased demand (from political campaigns and action committees) will drive up media pricing.
There are specific rules associated with political advertising, including a requirement that during political windows for local campaigns, politicians must be given the lowest available rate for the class of time they are buying (pre-emptible, fixed, etc.). This dynamic wreaks further havoc on the laws of TV advertising supply and demand at the local level.
Additionally, many stations will not allow candidate level advertising inside their news programming (to avoid looking like they are endorsing said candidate). This restriction then moves smart political media buyers to buy the lead-in/lead-out breaks to local news to reach the news audience — thus spreading availability issues further into other dayparts.
However, all this has everything to do with marketplace demand — and nothing whatsoever to do with schedule delivery. If a client’s schedule posts at a 65 index, and the explanation is “politicals,” there needs to be a discussion.
Demand on commercial inventory has nothing to do with the audience for those commercials (and hence the ratings that they generate).
If a schedule does not post against the final buy (i.e. the estimated ratings for the spots which actually aired fell short of the actual ratings for the spots which actually aired), this has nothing to do with demand on those spots in the ad market. It means the audience estimates were off.
Certainly, if buyers are lax about estimating (or take inflated station estimates) under the assumption that bonus weight will be as readily available to make schedules whole – when it obviously will not – then, sure, they won’t post.
It’s kind of like not ordering enough food for your Super Bowl party, and then trying to order more in the third quarter. No, it probably won’t arrive before the game is over. But you should have ordered enough in the first place … or invited fewer guests. If you are experienced at throwing Super Bowl parties, then you should have known better. The same goes for agencies and political advertising windows.
It is possible for political advertising (and the demand dynamic it creates) to have an impact on actual delivery (post) vs. the media plan. This can happen if cost estimates are off (i.e. demand is misjudged) or if spots are preempted and cannot be made good in flight. These are legitimate issues, and they can best be addressed by planning which is carefully informed by marketplace knowledge and by diligent stewardship.
They do not, however, have anything to do with whether a station posts vs. final buy.
The conclusion is simple: A fixed amount of inventory + higher demand = higher pricing, but no impact on audience.
What can a client do to prepare for the onslaught of political advertising?
Planning, planning and more planning — Understand what the impact on inventory demands of political advertising in your markets will be, then plan around that impact. This will require media planners/buyers to think a bit more unconventionally and to collaborate closely with individual market specialists, but they need to work together and think this through.
Talk with stations and get an understanding of their approach in managing the demand for their inventory. Remember, political advertising is a cash up front business. Many stations are very keen to maximize this all-cash windfall. Buyers (and planners) should have a solid understanding of the impact their pricing assumptions may have on a purchased schedule’s ability to clear. And they should negotiate realistic ratings estimates, because shortfall is less likely to be made good in flight.
Research — Look through various online researchers and their take on media investments in national and local races. This will allow for better management of the potential inventory demand issues. These are driven by dynamics in individual races, national money from political parties and political action committees, and more normal audience trends. Political ad buying organizations are equipped to deal with these nuances, but they require additional effort from agencies representing traditional advertisers.
Bottom line: plan carefully and estimate diligently.
Want to learn more about political advertising? Some suggestions: