As the political climate heats up, the debates are getting more granular and politicians are drawing lines in the sand. Expected to spend about $4.5 billion on TV ads to promote their platforms and undoubtedly do some mudslinging along the way, political candidates pose a challenge for direct response marketers looking for affordable, available pieces of the television media pie. The hurdle is particularly onerous during presidential elections, when the big bucks are rolled out to support national campaigns.
With a large concentration of ads projected to air during September, October, and the first few days of November, it isn’t too early to start thinking about a media strategy for the third and fourth quarters of the year. About four-fifths of 2016’s total political spend will be allocated to local markets, with the balance paid to cable and broadcast networks. With this in mind, it is imperative that political spend is reallocated away from local markets. And within those markets, the concentration will be limited to 12 to 14 “swing” states.
Entitled by federal law to the lowest unit rate on television, cable, and radio during the 45-day period leading up to a primary election and the 60-day period before the general election, candidates have a significant impact on media availability in the broadcast media. In addition, media outlets typically dole out favored rates and access during other parts of the election year, creating an even tighter media environment throughout the first three quarters of the year.
Marketers looking to keep the spotlight on their campaigns without breaking the bank or getting locked out of desired time periods can use four strategies to ride out the presidential election and come out unscathed on Nov. 9.
Brace yourself for a new, but temporary, dynamic.
For 2016, the most competitive period will be from January through April, at the end of which 26 states will have held primary elections. Hawthorne expects a lull in ad spend and impact on TV until the fourth quarter of 2016, at which time there will be a significant lift in spend straight through Election Day. During the 2014 campaign, the surge in spend actually lowered TV impressions across national cable and broadcast network programs. This final push will impact all platforms; with addressable, strategic media needed to reach key demographics, political spend will be visible across all devices.
Put key strategies into action now.
Political spend will be huge in 2016. However, it can be managed strategically and smartly using strong data analytics and insights from consumer response across the nation and in key markets. For starters, this is not the year to put off ad-space buys until the last minute; this could impact the odds of making a successful media buy. With politicians buying up lots of space across a range of markets, now is the time to get ahead of the political media planners and take a proactive approach to securing media for the year.
Be prepared for rate increases and stiff competition.
Rates at the local broadcast TV level will likely increase by 12 percent to 18 percent, depending on the network. There will also be less available inventory on all TV dayparts, with early morning, early news, and prime access spots being in particularly high demand. Existing schedules may be pre-empted as Super PACs and “issue” advertisers pay premium rates to guarantee placement, bumping traditional advertisers from their desired time slots. Deal with these challenges by testing networks and timeslots well in advance to determine the top-tier networks and alternates, and consider overbuying to keep some ad space in play with the knowledge that media buys can typically be canceled until two weeks from the actual run date.
Employ time-tested tips for success.
Having successfully piloted many clients through election years, Hawthorne uses a five-pronged approach to execute effective media management in a challenging climate. Here it is:
- Reallocate media from local markets to national cable networks;
- Act early to lock in national media during the first two quarters of the year;
- Expand digital media throughout 2016;
- Seek out program sponsorship opportunities; and
- Expand programmatic or addressable media with targeted content.
Jessica Hawthorne-Castro is Chairman and CEO of Hawthorne Direct.
The above blog post was adapted from the “Agency Insights” column published in the March-April 2016 issue of ER magazine.