As we head into a presidential election year, now is an ideal time to reflect on the political ad spending trends of last year’s midterm elections.
The media landscape continues to evolve with new mediums and innovations that impact how clients and candidates allocate their advertising budgets. Simultaneously, inflation and economic uncertainty may impact spending and fundraising.
Agencies will need to combine learnings from the 2022 cycle and adapt to new trends and a shifting media landscape to optimize results for their clients.
Looking Back at the 2022 Midterms
In 2022, candidates and political committees were predicted to spend $8.9 billion. Though actual spending did not reach that high, it still broke records at $8.2 billion. Most of that money went towards traditional broadcast TV ($4.3 billion), cable and satellite TV ($3.05 billion), Facebook/Google ads ($1.2 billion) and radio ($300 million).
Over-the-top (OTT) and connected TV (CTV) saw $1 billion in ad spend, despite experts noting that it’s hard to estimate, track and report on the impact of these emerging distribution platforms like YouTube and Freevee.
Unsurprisingly, the cities with the highest ad spending were those with high-profile races. Los Angeles had the highest spend with $329.1 million going towards the Bass/Caruso mayoral election and ballot measures to legalize online sports betting. Atlanta was another top spending city where $292.4 million went towards races like the highly publicized Warnock/Walker for Senate.
Vivvix CMAG reported that the top issues addressed in ads surrounding the midterm elections were:
- The economy (republicans) and women’s rights (democrats)
- Inflation and spending
- Public safety
Spending Predictions for 2024
Most political media agencies agree this cyclical business no longer experiences much downtime between cycles. Vivvix CMAG tracked the first presidential salvo for 2024 on November 16, 2022, about a week after the midterms concluded. Through the first week of April 2023, $2 million had already been spent on presidential campaign advertisements, most appearing on national cable TV channels.
This early start underscores the prediction that the 2024 presidential campaign will likely be the most expensive political ad campaign ever. Experts believe that since the Senate and House are so narrowly divided (along with the sentiments of the country), overall spending will be high.
At a local level, super PACs and their fundraising prowess are getting involved, bringing their fundraising brawn to the smallest races, which drives spending all around.
New Channels Change the Scene
Though traditional broadcast and cable still carry the bulk of political advertising, new platforms are making an impact. Some may assume only Gen Z is engaging on these newer platforms, but those in the 40+ demographic are starting to migrate. For example, 31% of TikTok users are 40+ years old.
Regardless of the anti-targeting policies and negative press surrounding Facebook and Google, political advertisers continue to see value in these platforms. But some are wavering on dedicating funding here in 2024 due to uncertainty about their future political ad policies.
Many political media agencies are shying away from platforms that lack transparency in reporting. This includes OTT, CTV, local streaming and outdoor ads (like billboards). Moving forward, without accountability and accurate tracking, agencies will be hesitant to spend on these mediums.
For now, despite shrinking viewership, it looks like traditional broadcast will continue to reign supreme because it delivers “tried and true” voters and reliable, accurate reporting.
Automation Lends a Hand
It can be difficult to predict the longevity and fundraising of each campaign for which you’re buying. Political media agencies must have the ability to pivot rapidly as the race unfolds. As a result, many agencies are hesitant to overstaff despite a high volume of work.
Instead, media agencies are turning to technology to handle the repetitive, time-consuming parts of the business so they can focus on what they do best. For example, some political media buyers are relying on automation technology within their finance department for accounts payable (AP). Tools like FastPay’s Political+ solution let agencies manage AP functions remotely, approving and paying media invoices with a few easy clicks.
Automation and AI will allow political media agency staff to concentrate on core competencies while technology takes care of the rest. As we enter what’s sure to be a volatile 2024 election cycle, flexibility will be critical.
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