Politics + Media

As November fast approaches, the media and messaging battleground of political advertising is intensifying. We are paying particular attention to media campaign strategy shifts—how candidates and their teams are adapting to the ever-evolving landscape of media consumption habits among targeted voters.

You don’t have to be an avid political ad follower to see how candidates are trying to get in front of voters in the fragmented, increasingly digital media landscape. Our research for this article suggested that there is a gap between most candidates’ spending and media consumption. Part of this is driven by traditional thinking, as some hypothesize that older and rural voters can’t be reached otherwise. Some candidate teams are reluctant to mix correctly and may spend up to 72% of their budgets in traditional media on mostly linear TV, then radio, outdoor and print.

Some strategists remain convinced that traditional media plans will continue to shape opinion, if not win elections, especially in a year with many undecided voters. Even with lower reach and higher frequency caps, the budget can go fast and leave fewer dollars for paid social, search and non-linear television that will deliver unique impressions in addition to the linear impressions.

Media investments in Connected TV will also increase this year, compared to 2020, and will likely account for almost half of the digital spending. The implications for all advertisers will mean less inventory leading up to and likely beyond November 5.

Digital will also deliver microtargeting and help bring in voters in the earlier acquisition phase of the process. This can also integrate with “the ground game” of events and sponsorships when timed correctly. Investing in digital early can lead to media algorithm insights and audience modeling to help optimize campaign effectiveness. Of course, the shift towards digital advertising is not without its challenges and, lately, some controversy.

In addition to the choices, programming environments should also be considered. Ads that portray the opponent negatively continue to grab attention. Undecided voters can be reached with comparison or issues-based ads that, when placed with the right media channel at the right time toward the right audience, can create strong connections.

Also overlooked is the impact of effective media planning on building the base and fundraising. Big money—both getting it and spending it as inventory scarcity inevitably occurs towards the last weeks and days of the campaign—matters at the same time CPMs are going up. Breaking through in a big election year is complex, and political advertisers must navigate a fractured media ecosystem that includes national news outlets that blur the lines between partisanship and sensationalism.

The more advanced data-gathering from the candidate’s team, the better. When there is a well-defined target plus insight gained from polling analysis, this helps agencies make more effective, efficient decisions. With 30 days left in the race, the better-informed candidate teams should count on their agency partner to optimize media investments, or they risk losing.

How different is it from working with our clients? Not much, really. Want to see for yourself? Contact us.