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What the Political Domination of the Airwaves Means for Advertisers

Updated on December 20, 2016

Raise your hand if you’re exhausted from this election season. I know I am. The entire nation seemed to experience election stress disorder, and many were overjoyed to see the contentious campaigns end. But no one was more grateful than advertisers when we finally reached Nov. 9.

Political ads dominate the airwaves during election years. In 2012, local and regional media outlets reported 50 to 90 percent saturation, and costs for open slots can increase by 200 percent in the weeks before the final vote.

That’s not ideal at any time, but it’s especially problematic as we head into the holidays. Local advertisers felt the squeeze most acutely because they were competing for fewer spots. But national advertisers that target regional markets also struggled for airtime.

A Definite Distraction

The run-up to the 2016 campaign has been particularly challenging because campaigns have become more sophisticated in their uses of online ads and social media. Their high relevance scores gave them advantages in ad auctions, further limiting brands’ opportunities.

Whether the “political crowd-out” will negatively affect retailers’ profits remains to be seen. Some experts say the election will boost consumer spending, while others believe it will drag revenue down. The public’s fixation on all things Trump and Clinton has distracted consumers from holiday shopping so far, but we might see people indulge in collective retail therapy now that the presidency has been decided.

The (Advertising) Space Race

Although the political campaigns have loosened their strangleholds on advertising opportunities, brands are racing to purchase available spots. The opportunities to reach audiences before the holidays may seem scarce, but there are still ways to connect. One way is to temporarily scale back on your TV campaigns. At the moment, those spots are costly and challenging to secure, so mix in other mediums and strategies.

Social media ads are distributed through an auction-based system, and inventory never maxes out. If you’ve already shot a TV spot but can’t run it on that platform, consider sharing the video on social. You’ll reach a more targeted audience and may see better conversion rates as a result.

Email is another strong option. Forbes reports that more than 90 percent of Americans welcome promotional emails from brands they do business with. If you already have an extensive list of customers, don’t be shy about sending emails and direct mail to keep them engaged. There’s nothing like a festive greeting to put them in the holiday shopping spirit! Just make sure you’re not bombarding them with sales messages.

Mobile and in-app ads offer great opportunities as well. Now is a great time to perfect personalized online campaigns for different audience segments. The more clearly you speak to people’s needs, the better you’ll cut through the noise.

Quality Over Everything

Whatever medium you choose for holiday advertising, don’t forget about the value of high-quality content. The political and holiday seasons may strain your ad budget, but you can use articles, blog posts, and whitepapers to reach your audience. Seek opportunities to use earned media to boost your visibility.

Although the year is rapidly drawing to a close, I recommend staying a step ahead of the competition. If you’re going to pursue TV spots, schedule them as far in advance as possible. With such limited inventory, you must be ready to act when an opportunity becomes available. A multichannel campaign is your best chance of making an impression on consumers ahead of the holidays. The election may be over, but the competition for consumers’ attention is just heating up.


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