Political: $440 Million and Counting

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Even without a presidential race, the 2006 political advertising market is roaring.

Candidates and issue-oriented groups have spent $440 million on advertising through early June. That’s $110 million more than political advertisers spent in 2004 through the same date. Overall, U.S. political ad spending is projected to top $1 billion overall, most of it flowing over broadcast and cable TV outlets, according to new estimates from a leading political ad-tracking firm.

Driving the largesse: 36 races for state governor. Evan Tracey, COO of TNS Media Intelligence’s Campaign Media Analysis Group, projects spending associated with gubernatorial campaigns will be double the amount spent by the Bush and Kerry presidential campaigns in 2004. In California, more than $60 million already has been spent on the Democratic Primary contest for the governor’s race.

Television will account for close to 85% of all political spending, helping the industry make up for the defection of some other ad categories to new-media outlets, according to Tracey. He also said issue-centered advertising is on the rise, with $195 million of the $440 million spent through early June flowing from groups attempting to influence voter attitudes on ballot initiatives and legislation in general.

Spot cable should get a strong share of spending from U.S. House and Senate races believed to be “in play” by Democratic party leaders intent on winning back majorities. But sellers will have to be patient: For these races, more than 90% of the dollars will flow over the final 60 days of campaigning, Tracey said.

Tracey, addressing a Broadcast Cable Financial Management Association conference June 12, identified two trends that favor cable advertising:

  • Campaign advisers are sensitive to mass media fragmentation and are turning to cable and local radio to fill in audience targets – a tactic employed by the Bush campaign in 2004 to overcome what strategists identified as a “GRP gap.”
  • Television is becoming more popular as a political ad medium with lower-level candidates including aspirants for county and municipal offices. Spot cable stands to benefit from the trend because of the medium’s ability to direct commercials at geographically precise zones.

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