NYC TV Week: Political Spend Will Span Digital, Traditional TV

As 2020 election nears, panel sees money returning to traditional and digital coffers
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New York -- Fears that the upcoming 2020 presidential election will focus more on social media and digital venues rather than more traditional ad vehicles like broadcast and cable TV are wholly unfounded, according to a panel of top ad executives at the NYC TV Week Advanced Advertising event Monday.

In a session moderated by CNN International anchor Zain Asher, the panel said that during next year’s presidential election, the spigots will be flowing.

Kantar/ Campaign Media Analysis Group vice president and general manager Steven Passwaiter said the political money being spent in the upcoming election will be “relatively mind-blowing,” adding that it will be distributed across digital, broadcast and cable outlets.

Read More: Complete Coverage of NYC TV Week

“Broadcast TV is still going to lead what happens in this cycle. There is going to be more linear TV money spent, but there is going to be an awful lot of money spent on TV -- we’re projecting between broadcast and cable somewhere around $4.5 billion,” Passwaiter said, adding that digital would be at about $1.2 billion with other researchers having predicted a $1.6 billion digital spend. And he added that video will be an important component of all of those ads.

“Politicians are like car dealers,” Passwaiter said. “They can’t see themselves in video often enough,” adding that OTT outlets will see a good chunk of that money.”

Targeting ads to specific voters or types of voters will be a big component of that.

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“The problem with politics is that $4-$5-$6 billion is going to be spent in the final 60 days as it leads into an election,” said Ampersand senior vice president political sales Jeff Halgney. “So it puts a lot of pressure in a lot of inventory and you need to utilize that data to help you inform where you find those audiences as those audiences get eaten up by a competitor. Every politician wants to know what their competitor is doing.”

DSPolitical managing partner and chief technology officer Mark Jablonowski said that democrats will likely be playing catch-up to Republicans. DSPolitical mainly consults for democratic and progressive candidates, and Jablonowski previously worked on President Barack Obama’s 2008 campaign on the tech side.

“We are in a different world on the Democratic side unfortunately,” Jablonowski said. “We don’t have the same investment in the media mix that I think really is where voters' eyeballs are at these days.”

Democrats, he said, failed to invest in the technology they used so successfully in the Obama campaign.

“Republicans came up with the ability to invest more in the targeting and invest more in the media mix where the voters eyeballs are ultimately at,” Jablonowski said, adding that was evident in the 2016 campaign when the Trump camp spent a 50-50 mix between digital persuasion and traditional TV advertising. “That’s going to be even more on the digital side this time around.”

On the Republican side, GOP political ad agency National Media Inc.’s senior VP Evan Tracey said while digital will be an important part, so will TV.

“Every election is sort of re-running the last election adjusted for inflation,” Tracey said. “Yes, we’re a republican agency. We do a lot of work with the President and have since the last cycle and we also bought a lot of net TV in addition to digital.”

Tracey added that the ability to target political ads to the household level will be important, but probably not so much in 2020 or 2022.

“This election will be the video election,” he said. “If there is video to buy, we’re going to be collectively trying to buy as much of that video as we can.”

Passwaiter also said that the trend to back off from broadcast advertising will be different this time around, too. In the 2016 presidential election, Democratic candidate Hilary Clinton spent about $300 million on broadcast ads while Republican nominee Donald Trump spent about $150 million on that medium.

“This time around, I think that money is back,” Passwaiter said. “The Trump people know they need to raise a lot more money. It’s a different campaign to be an insurgent than to be an incumbent. Those are two different campaigns and require two different levels of funding. How the money gets spent is going to be the big question.”

The Trump campaign, he added will likely spend a lot of money on digital. He added that currently, billionaire Democratic candidate Tom Steyer is spending more digitally in the past 90 days with Trump a close second.

“He [Trump] has not been willing to layoff Facebook,” Passwaiter said. “It’s going to be interesting to see how much money gets spent on the Republican side in digital, and whether the Democrats overcome some of the consultant class that doesn’t seem to believe in digital all that much and actually decides to get in there and fight it out with the President.”

Deep Root Analytics CEO Sara Fagan said that targeting could end up making a difference, especially with persuadable voters or those that are on the political fence. Fagan had worked on the 2000 George W. Bush presidential campaign that was decided by 528 votes in the state of Florida.

“These very narrow margins matter in most campaigns,” she said. “...We are in a period of politics where voters are incredibly unhappy with the people running generally, on both sides of the aisle. And they’re moving around a lot. So you have to have the ability to track people where they are at the time and then have the piping in place to find them. That’s the key.”

While political consultants ultimately measure their success by the outcome of the election, Tracey said that targeting ads could help move the odds.

Generally, a consultant knows at the start of a race how many voters they need to win an election, and what they need to do. For example, if it’s in a Republican-dominated district, they need to make sure their voters are getting out first and getting their messages. If a targeted constituency is younger, ads could be focused on digital and mobile outlets to capture commuters, or in rural areas, on the radio to reach people when they’re in their cars.

"It’s also an events driven business,” Tracey said. “Something could change that we don’t know about tomorrow that could change the issues we’re talking about, could change the voters we’re taking to. In that case, where advanced TV comes in, you need to understand that when you come into our office to sell it. We need to be able to change traffic quickly, we need to be able to get an ad off and on the air. We need to be able to understand from you who’s consuming your content and how we are going to be able to sell ads to them.”

Passwaiter added that the 2020 election will be the first when Millennials start turning 40 years old, which could set a whole new dynamic of TV habits in motion.

“This is the lean-forward not the lean-back generation, so you have to suspect that those media habits are going to start being reflected in how these campaigns advertise,” Passwaiter said. 

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