After the onslaught of television spots, radio ads, direct mail pieces and digital banners, it likely comes as no surprise that 2014 was another record year for political ad spending. The explosion of ads is due in large part to the 2010 Citizens United decision by the Supreme Court, which lifted bans on political spending by corporations. Though the final numbers have not been released, analysts say the 2014 political advertising spend will climb past $1.2 billion nationally, with the bulk of those dollars going to local TV.
Evan Tracey, Senior Vice President at National Media, spoke with Media Life about the current political advertising landscape (full article here). He notes record spending of over $100 million in states such as Colorado, North Carolina and Florida, with others like Iowa and Arkansas not far behind. Numerous issues and geopolitical factors drove up spend, along with competitive U.S. Senate and governor races. Tracey predicts that the 2016 presidential elections will be competitive, expensive and ad-driven, with spending likely to start earlier than ever.
As of 10/31, Colorado Public Radio reported that TV advertising in Colorado had topped $105 million, with Republicans winning the spending race, but Democrats dominating the number of ads run. If run back-to-back, the nearly 123,000 TV spots would consume almost 43 days. Full spending break-outs by advertiser can be found here.
Broadcast stations face a multitude of rules and policies surrounding political advertising, including reasonable access, equal opportunities, no censorship, lowest unit rate, BCRA requirements and large quantities of paperwork, including disclosure statements and the public file. Additional insight into the FCC’s regulations can be downloaded here. The “political window” and “lowest unit rate” are particularly important for advertisers to be aware of. The political window is the period 45 days before a primary election, or 60 days before a general election. During this timeframe, sales of broadcast time to candidates for “uses” must be made at the lowest rate given to any other advertiser for a purchase of the same class of time.
One of the biggest issues non-political advertisers face is limited inventory. Though other media vehicles will certainly see increased activity, TV inventory is by far the hardest hit, particularly in the news dayparts. Political ads cannot be bumped, and will always run before consumer spots. Opportunities for added value become much more limited, as bonus spots are removed from the table. With the surge of dollars, rates increase and inventory shifts by the minute. However, with a little creativity and flexibility, there’s always a work-around to keep an advertiser on-air. Avoiding news programming and allowing additional daypart flexibility certainly helps, along with alternative creative units, sponsorships and packages. Every client has unique needs and should be approached differently, so the solution is never one-size-fits-all. While it certainly presents additional challenges, an open dialogue and partnership between stations, agencies and clients will help everyone navigate even the craziest of political landscapes.