The Political Advertising Molds We’re Shattering in 2020

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By Randi Langford, VP Political and Programming Sales, New York Interconnect

The concept of “normal” hasn’t had much of a place in 2020 so far, and the political advertising landscape might be the case in point. Even before the COVID-19 pandemic ravaged the globe on the health, economic and cultural fronts, the 2020 election season—not just at the presidential level, but at the congressional, state and local levels as well—promised to be a particularly fiery one. Now that we’re heading into the final stretch of 2020 campaigning, on the backdrop of a resurgent worldwide health crisis, we see that everything we’ve learned in past elections does little to guide us to this finish line.

When it comes to political advertising, there’s never been a more important time for a holistic advertising approach to get your candidate’s or cause’s message out. But what exactly does that look like this season, and how do the extraordinary circumstances change how you need to be spending in these coming weeks? Here are three unique considerations at play in ways never before seen in the political arena.

A Marathon, Not a Sprint

In past election seasons, the cadence of advertising has been pretty predictable, with particularly heavy spending in the last two weeks prior to people heading to the polls. This year, the pandemic has and will continue to alter the expected pace of spending.

There will still be a surge in spending in the final weeks leading up to Nov. 3, but given the unprecedented swing to mail-in voting this year, candidates have been spending earlier than usual to ensure they’re reaching those mail-in voters during their critical windows of decision-making. Furthermore, given the higher proportion of mail-in votes and particularly contentious races at the presidential and congressional levels, election night is unlikely to yield clear winners and losers immediately. As a result, it’s likely we will see more political advertising after the election as candidates and causes weigh in on the matter of ballot counting.

Given the extended run of this year’s campaign spending, we’re going to see more quick pivots and targeted efforts by campaigns as they seek to reach their persuadable audiences at the right time. In digital, these fast moves and pivots are familiar from past election cycles. But in TV, the rise in addressable, OTT and other digital opportunities is relatively new to the 2020 cycle. The campaigns that take advantage of a more-targeted, audience-based approach this year, in addition to their standard linear buys, will be better positioned to sustain momentum throughout the spending marathon that is 2020.

Intense, But Focused

The intensity of political spending in 2020 reflects the intensity of this year’s political landscape. But we’re seeing many more campaigns cutting with a scalpel rather than a chainsaw. Politicians at every level are stepping up their media sophistication to keep up with the evolving landscape in 2020, and a big part of that has to do with how they’re parsing the unprecedented amount of data that’s at their fingertips this year.

New tools for getting granular with big data are helping political marketers find the pockets of inventory that make the most sense for their candidates—even in previously less targetable channels like TV. Candidates can leverage newly available data and analytics that demonstrate the viewing patterns from each political party, and then target by party at the household level with their regional TV spends. In this way, campaigns are able to be intensely focused and streamlined in getting their messages across every screen within the all-important political campaign window.

A Single Lens for Every Message

Finally, in every political advertising conversation, it’s important to recognize the COVID-19 elephant in the room. Never before has a single issue dominated the political messaging and creative front quite the way the pandemic is this year. Responses to COVID-19 are necessarily framing messages around nearly every political talking point—healthcare, jobs, schools, economics, you name it.

Given the evolving nature of the pandemic and its variable impact by region, pandemic-related messaging represents yet another force that’s driving 2020 campaigns toward targeted advertising in ways we haven’t seen before. When this election season wraps, it will be candidates’ targeting strategies we’ll be discussing in terms of what made or broke their campaigns—not the sheer volume of spend, as we’ve seen in past years.

Without a doubt, the next few weeks are going to be a wild ride in the political marketing world. Ultimately, the greatest success is going to be found by the candidates that focus as much on the sharpness of their scalpels as they do on the size of their megaphones.

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