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Political Advertising Tips for the Midterm Elections: What We Learned From 2016

August 28th, 2018   ||    by Oriana Schwindt

There is no one surefire strategy to get a candidate for public office elected. Political advertising tips are therefore many and varied, often depending on the race and the candidates. But with political ad spend forecast to hit $8.8 billion for these midterm elections, according to Borrell Associates, a little guidance for the TV ad industry can go a long way.

Here are four lessons buyers and sellers can take away from the 2016 election and the 2018 primaries thus far.

Dark Horse Candidates Are Less Dark Than You Think

US Representative Joe Crowley had been NY-14’s man for most of two decades. He was bandied about as a possible heir to Nancy Pelosi’s position in the Democratic Party. And he lost, brutally, in his district’s primary to 28-year-old Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a candidate proposing policies further to Crowley’s left. Ocasio-Cortez had an extremely limited budget that leaned away from TV spend and instead focused on volunteer-led canvassing.

However, that doesn’t mean these candidates are opposed to TV. It behooves buyers and sellers not to ignore these candidates, and to show them the value of TV advertising.

Digital Isn’t a Magic Bullet

Borrell revised its forecast for digital ad spend during this midterm elections season slightly lower than previous forecasts. The reason behind this downward revision could have something to do with Facebook and Twitter’s new transparency guidelines for political ads.

Facebook, which was just fined £500,000 by the UK for its involvement in the Cambridge Analytica scandal according to BBC News, now places a “political ad” label on any advertising that deals with what the Facebook algorithm deems a political subject. This tactic has already swept up numerous campaigns that are not political, including one for Bush’s baked beans, according to Bloomberg.

Reduce the Friction

If there’s anything having a president who came from the reality TV world has taught us, it’s that television still has power.

While the targeting afforded by certain digital platforms is all well and good, politics is still both a numbers and a local game, and you’d still be hard-pressed to find the easy reach of broadcast TV. That’s why Borrell forecasts broadcast TV spend of around $3.4 billion, or 38.8 percent of all spending for this election season.

But there’s still a fair amount of friction in TV buying. When tired, overstretched campaigns can buy online audiences with a click of a button, that’s an attractive option. Making the buying of political advertising as frictionless as possible while still maintaining all the standards you don’t see online would be a big win for everyone.

Spend Smart

No article of political advertising tips would be complete without noting the most expensive Senate, House, and gubernatorial races, and NBC News has a handy list. As expected, Florida and Illinois are seeing large infusions of ad dollars into their markets, given the big Senate and governor races coming up. But how to know what’s a good use of your dollars?

Ignore polls and listen to your people on the ground. The Trump campaign and anti-Hillary Clinton groups were responsible for 60 percent of the TV ad spending in the Milwaukee market in the final week of the 2016 presidential election, according to MapLight. While other factors may have been at play as well, the resulting razor-thin margin of victory for the Trump campaign is notable. Such a strategy can work to the advantage of just about any candidate.

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