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Advertising During the Primaries: Here’s What Local TV Can Expect for the 2020 Election

July 25th, 2019   ||    by Oriana Schwindt

The 2020 election is already upon us. Primary season is in full swing, with Democratic candidates already making appearances in critical caucus states like Iowa and New Hampshire. What will local TV advertising during the primaries look like this go-round?

There are three categories of marketers who concern themselves with advertising during the primaries, and they each have a different perspective on the marketplace.

1. Political Candidates

Local TV raked in a massive $3.1 billion from campaigns during the 2018 midterm elections, reported Broadcasting & Cable. Bear in mind that is with all the stations adhering to federal regulations, which state that political candidates are entitled to pay the lowest possible rate for their advertising.

Local stations are anticipating an even greater haul during this primary season. “While the dollars are still pretty small, we’ve actually gotten two 2020 presidential orders in Iowa already this year,” Gray Television’s chief financial officer James Ryan said in the Financial Times.

A crowded Democrat field ought to bear out this prediction; the DNC has announced a dozen primary debates, according to The Hill. And because President Trump will be an incumbent, rather than an insurgent receiving lots of earned media, his campaign will also be spending more this election, Gray Television’s CEO Hilton Howell theorized.

2. Non-Candidate Political Advertisers

Since the Citizens United decision in 2010, the field of super PAC advertising has boomed. (This is why ads from a candidate must append a confirmation from the candidate that they approve a message, if it’s paid for by the campaign.)

Ads from organizations not explicitly associated with a candidate’s campaign tend to mirror the strategies of those coming from the campaign. In 2016, that meant concentrating on character attacks, according to The Conversation; whether that strategy will be repeated in the 2020 election remains to be seen.

Democratic groups have also already begun to focus on congressional races, releasing ads in January that centered around the government shutdown, according to Kantar Media.

3. Non-Political Advertisers

It might be tempting for local marketers, in particular, to just sit out the primary season, particularly given the increasing rancor to be found in some political ads. Advertising during the primaries means fewer spots available and higher prices for those available spots.

But because there’s so much political clutter during the primaries, a regular ad for a local company can serve as an oasis of non-partisanship for viewers being inundated with political messages.

The presidential debates in 2016 set TV ratings records, The Hill reported. With 2020 shaping up to be perhaps an even bigger battle, it’s not a stretch to predict those records could be broken again. That’s a win for everyone, regardless of how you’re advertising during the primaries.

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