Election 2016: A Campaign Odyssey

This election cycle was a difficult one when it came to forecasting ad spending. One candidate went the traditional route and poured millions into advertising, while the other essentially decided that the existing rules for political advertising didn’t really matter anymore.

At the start of the race, Kantar Media’s Campaign Media Analysis Group (CMAG) was forecasting a 16 percent increase in advertising spend over the 2012 cycle. The Citizens United decision, a Supreme Court ruling that took caps off of political donations in the U.S., coupled with the fact that there would be open primaries in both parties, indicated that there would be an upward trend in political ad spending.

With each month that passed, it became clear that this was not the case. The Trump campaign wasn’t spending. In fact, the campaign spent nothing on TV from the time he won the Republican nomination to the week before Labor Day – something that has never happened before in the TV era of campaign advertising.

Different Budgets, Different Strategies

When you add up the top five spenders for both camps, there is a huge disparity in spending between one side and the other.

The Clinton campaign and its supporters had a huge spending advantage over Trump. The campaign bought TV advertising early and often, entering key battleground states quickly in order to get ahead in the supply and demand game of TV inventory.

The Trump campaign didn’t buy until later in the election cycle, but bought heavy when they finally did. All of Trump’s money was spent between August and Election Day, and the PACs that were supporting him were few and far in between. Instead, Trump leaned on earned media for the majority of the campaign.

The argument of scope (TV) versus scale (digital) in political circles seems to be gaining some prominence. There’s no question that Google and Facebook are absolute must haves for campaigns, and Snapchat is rapidly gaining momentum as well. Of Trump’s $140 million buy, nearly 30% went to digital. Additionally, the digital director of the Republican National Committee said that in over 150 days they spent $200k-300k per day on Facebook and he deemed it an absolute success.

Where did the money go?

If you’re a TV station, it’s a good time to be in Florida and New Hampshire. New Hampshire is heavily influenced by Boston media so even though it’s a relatively small state, advertising to voters in New Hampshire can get expensive as it gives you one of the top ten markets in the country.

Florida has become such a key state that it’s no surprise that it pulls in more money than anyone else. There are numerous independent voters in the state who can be persuaded to go with either party.

The Clinton Campaign had a lot of advantages, but in the end they just couldn’t they pull off a win. Part of it may have been the advertising message which was a little skewed towards how horrible the other guy was. But primarily, she was seen as the candidate of the status quo, and this was clearly a change election where all of the advertising dollars invested couldn’t sway voters in key battleground states.

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