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Candidates’ TV Ad Spending: What 2020 Candidates Can Learn From 2016

November 12th, 2019   ||    by Oriana Schwindt

Federal candidates’ TV ad spending for the 2020 election could be anywhere from $6 billion to $10 billion, depending on whether you favor Kantar‘s forecast that doesn’t include PACs or Group M’s forecast that does, according to Forbes.

Either way, that’s a lot of money going around, and an increasing amount of it will go to digital, according to Kantar: digital spend will match cable TV ad spend, with $1.2 billion for each. Broadcast, though, will continue to dominate, with $3.2 billion projected.

Why does broadcast still command the lion’s share of political ad spend? To answer this question, we need to address two big issues.

1. Do Political TV Ads Work?

This may seem like a ridiculous question to ask, but after all, Donald Trump spent far less than his opponent on campaign ads during the 2016 election, according to The Washington Post.

Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton’s campaign spent $768 million compared to Donald Trump’s $398 million, not including PAC money. That may suggest that candidates’ TV ad spending may not be terribly effective. After all, Donald Trump is currently president of the United States.

But Hillary Clinton did, in fact, receive more votes than Donald Trump, indicating that where TV ads are bought and when matters just as much as whether they are purchased at all.

Another angle to think of is that while Hillary Clinton may have outspent Donald Trump overall, Trump was the recipient of $5 billion in earned media during the 2016 campaign, according to The Washington Post, compared to $3.24 billion for Clinton.

2. The Digital Problem

There’s no denying the effectiveness of social media campaigns, particularly when it comes to politics. Donald Trump’s 2016 win has been attributed in part to savvy social media advertising and usage by news outlets like The Hill.

But Facebook has come under fire multiple times in the last several years for its data security. The Cambridge Analytica scandal, in which the company harvested millions of people’s Facebook data without those people’s consent, is one significant example.

Worse, though, was the revelation that social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter had unknowingly been part of a massive Russian misinformation campaign, according to Vox. One in six “suspicious groups” that placed political ads on Facebook were linked to the Kremlin-backed Internet Research Agency, according to a study in Wired.

Potential voters must now distrust the material they see on social media—”Where is it really coming from?” they must ask themselves. Thanks to FEC regulations, ads running on television must disclose who paid for the ad, meaning that voters know exactly where the ad is coming from.

Though the FEC is beginning to enforce those regulations online, there are still plenty of opportunities for scofflaws to slip through.

How to Make an Effective Political Ad

The effectiveness of a given political ad depends on a number of factors, including geography, demographics, and the overall political climate. Hitting on certain topics in certain geographies—like climate change in states prone to flooding—is important to keep in mind. When looking to reach younger viewers, you will need to think about a mixture of social media and broadcast TV.

Candidates’ TV ad spending shows, though, that TV is still king.

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