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The complexity of election advertising

legendre-glenda-col-sig-1The political advertising landscape has never been more complex. Regulatory changes, diverse pricing structures in battleground markets, copyright infringement on mainly digital assets, expansion of market segments with more effective reach, and privacy issues on data are just a few factors that are contributing to the confusion. And somehow you think you are viewing ordinary commercial spots.

 5 political ad types

According to web experts Ballot.ready, there are five kinds of political ads for any of the digital or broadcast formats. The first is the introductory ad to meet the candidate and to allow them to begin fund raising. The endorsement follows, where known people discuss the attributes of the candidate. Actual campaign footage may be added to provide context.

Positive ads are an additional subset that expands on the candidate’s positions and seeks financial support. In contrast, the reverse style of negative ads generally do not seek funding but rather try to make an impact against a rival candidate — there’s just so much you can do in a short 15-, 30- or 60 second spot.

Finally, there are citizen testimonial style ads that feature ordinary Americans endorsing a candidate closer to the election date.

Once the ad forms are determined, price, reach and timing are major considerations for a campaign. For 2020, campaign media buying experts at predict broadcast and cable television will have strong campaign buys at $3.3 billion and $1.2 billion, respectively. Radio is expected to attract $400 million, and paid digital buys $800 million.

These estimates do not include some of the considerations a Super PAC may bring into the picture (as the National Rifle Association and others added to the 2016 race.) Others predict a $6 billion season.

Regardless, Kantor estimates that candidates will spend between 20 and 40 percent of their budgets for digital assets. Facebook and Google are expected to capture most of these digital ad dollars. Timing of the type of ads aired varies as well, with more television spots occurring later in the campaign than the digital buys.

Meanwhile, the rise of digital video and the capability of a short turnaround time to produce ad spots has created an entirely new advertising playbook for 2020. Organizations like the Lincoln Project have gained recognition for producing edgy spots in record time that may encompass events, endorsers, etc.

These spots fold into paid space but actually get phenomenal free viral runs via enthusiastic social media followers on Twitter, Facebook and more sites.

Political marketing trends

There are major marketing trends to follow in political advertising. Connected television rather than linear TV is growing rapidly, especially with younger segments. Placing nonlinear ads can be better geo-targeted in smaller markets, serving as a boon to local TV markets.

Reserving ad placement inventory in the political arena becomes buy early and often. Prices increase closer to election as supply is less available.

Another important trend is the expanded focus on brand safety. Ads can be usurped and readily manipulated from one digital form to another, jeopardizing a candidate’s brand with copyright infringements and unsafe postings. Also, according to, campaigns are using behavioral and psychological data more effectively beyond just party affiliation and demographics. Up-to-date data helps with better media buys.

Finally, from a regulatory perspective, daily reports of impending changes to digital media giants’ controls may follow recent data scandals. Facebook in particular has been challenged to manage lies and errors on its platform both before and after the current 2020 election.

Advertisers, political candidates and marketers need to stay on top of regulations in political advertising and continue to track brand reputations on line. When you see the inevitable bevy of campaign ads this fall on your chosen media format, you should have a new respect for the national and local marketing campaigners’ continuing challenges to reach you.

Glenda LeGendre is principal of Marketing & Strategic Communications and can be reached at