Political Ad Spending Forecasted To Reach $6 Billion In 2019-2020 Election Cycle

The 2019-2020 election is slated to be big business for advertisers, with Kantar forecasting it to generate $6 billion in political advertising. The research firm’s study, which includes spending only on ads sponsored by federal candidates or campaigns and not by political action committees, also looks for lessons from the 2016 campaign to identify advertising channels and categories it expects political advertising to put pressure on, highlighting potential opportunities for other advertising media.

Kantar projects a significant increase in digital ad spending in 2020, with the channel receiving 20 percent of the total or $1.2 billion. Broadcast and cable television political ad spending will remain strong, with broadcast attracting $3.2 billion and cable attracting $1.2 billion. Radio ad spending is expected to total $400 million.

“Overall, an extended Democratic primary fight would likely be a short-term, second quarter 2020 sugar high,” says Steve Passwaiter, general manager for the Campaign Media Analysis Group service at Kantar’s Media division. “In fact, a long primary and a Democratic convention fight would most likely reduce total campaign spending as it would reduce the amount of time the eventual Democratic nominee would have to raise and spend money for the general election.”

Kantar notes that based on past results, digital remains a wild card when it comes to media spend. In 2016, the Clinton campaign spent 2.5 percent of its total budget and six percent of its media budget on digital. The 2016 Sanders campaign spent 12.5 of its total budget and 25 percent of its media budget on digital. Meanwhile, the Trump campaign spent more than 40 percent of its ad budget on digital in 2016.

The company also points to the Over-the-Top/Connected TV space as another area of emerging focus in the 2020 election cycle. The issues of scale that hindered the use of this platform in previous cycles is now in the past, and advertisers will be able to air more spots on these platforms.

Passwaiter cautions a “wait-and-see” approach when it comes to Super PACs, which can also play a significant role in shaping advertising spend. He says, “Not only do the unlimited ways they can raise money add to the overall total, but they pay a premium for television since they do not qualify for the lowest unit rates. It will be interesting to see if a Democrat uses them in 2020 as most in the primary have rejected this type of support so far.”

Political advertisers’ heavy investment in local TV advertising, particularly in battleground states, could crowd out other advertisers. Kantar’s analysis of the 2016 election cycle found that during the last three weeks of the campaign season, political advertising totaled 32 percent of local ad time within the battleground markets studied—an increase of 26 percent from the beginning of the season. Battleground markets analyzed included Florida, Indiana, Iowa, Missouri, North Carolina and Pennsylvania. Meanwhile, non-political advertisers saw their share of Spot TV inventory fall from 77 percent to 51 percent, a corresponding decline of 26 percent. Station promos were the one category that remained steady at 17 percent.

The impact of political advertisers’ rising tide hit across all categories. Automotive, which was the highest-spending category, saw the deepest decline, falling to nine percent of all ads during the weeks right before the election as compared to 14 percent at the start of peak political season. However, the telecom, education and medical services sectors saw steeper declines, with education advertising’s share by half to reach just two percent.

Kantar reports that brands seem to typically respond to the influx of political advertising by reducing the number of spots they run rather than ceasing advertising altogether. In 2016, the number of brands advertising on local TV fell 11 percent from the beginning to the end of the campaign season, even as the number of ads those brands ran fell 26 percent.

“This trend indicates that advertisers are trying to at least maintain some presence for their brands during election season, although they are no longer able to run as many ads,” says Jon Swallen, chief research officer at Kantar’s Media division. “Stations may also be trying to make sure they do not shut out local advertisers even as the campaigns drag on.”

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