The Political Ad Avalanche is Coming: Is Your Marketing Plan Ready?

The Political Ad Avalanche is Coming: Is Your Marketing Plan Ready?

Are you ready for the political ad avalanche? 2020 is expected to break records with an anticipated $6 billion in spending, a 57% increase from 2018. (Note: as of 11/1/20 this figure has increased to close to $11 Billion). The increase is a result of record primary spending, as well as COVID-19, i.e. the lack of face-to-face campaigning driving higher shares of budget to paid media. The presidential general election will make up about a third of overall spending, with another third for congressional races. Locally, 14 markets are expected to top over $100 million; this figure increases to $150M+ in Phoenix, Philadelphia, and Atlanta as they are battle grounds for the presidential election, and include other competitive races such as McSally vs. Kelly for Senate, where spending began in February and is expected to continue through the general election.

Expect more diversification in media channels this year, with more than $4.4 billion coming from traditional media including Broadcast TV, Cable, Direct Mail, and Radio, with a heavy dose of Digital Video (largely Facebook and Google).


The majority of political advertising has traditionally been seen in Television and will continue to be a driver in 2020, however we have seen a large increase in Digital channels in recent years. COVID-19 has also resulted in more time spent at home which has increased Social Media usage and Video consumption including Over-the-Top (OTT) and Connected TV (CTV) placements. Digital Video is expected to be a major focus for the 2020 campaigns, including Streaming services. Radio is another channel where heavy political ad spend is seen, particularly on News/Talk formats, as well as stations in rural areas where there are no local Television broadcasts. Out of Home and Print also see their fair share of political ad spend and publish political and/or candidate rate cards during these periods.


It all comes down to supply and demand. Increased demand for advertising inventory in election periods means a reduction in supply, and that drives up rates. For general advertisers, this means that it is important to plan and schedule your advertising placements early. It is also critically important to work with your agency, or sales reps if working directly with media outlets, to have a plan in place to manage any changes that come up along the way, e.g. your TV schedule is pre-empted. Other tactics to adapt your Television schedule in an election period:

  • Consider Broadcast outlets’ Digital assets to reach a similar audience
  • Convert a portion of your Television and/or Radio buy to Streaming or CTV options
  • Take the opportunity to test new (or new to you) media types on their own or in combination; Radio + Outdoor is a great alternative to Television as it can provide similar levels of reach and increased frequency
  • Partner with another brand and share your owned audiences

If your risk tolerance is low or you simply do not want your brand to run among political ads, consider media outlets where they are not allowed such as Public Television. Additional outlets such as Twitter and National Cinemedia have chosen the same route. Inventory and rates are generally more stable.

If Television is a staple on your advertising plan, you can maintain a presence and ensure continued reach of this audience during an election period. The key is to work closely with your buyer/rep to adapt your schedule, understanding that every station and network’s situation/programming is different and will change over time. This may mean:

  • Paying higher rates
  • Incorporating shorter units:
    • :15 units are not as popular for political ads
    • :05s and :10s are not even offered to candidates
  • Securing a fixed sponsorship where there is heavy viewership among your target
  • Shifting to different dayparts, and/or out of news programming/networks

If September – October is not a critical period for your brand, you may consider pausing your Television presence, making sure to consider:

  • The halo effect that Television has on your brand, e.g. review direct web traffic and branded search during past campaigns in addition to direct leads if the spot included a unique phone number and/or URL
  • How long your brand has been able to “go dark” on Television in the past without negative consequences to sales/leads
  • The benefit of increased viewership during this time, particularly if your target audience shows heavy consumption of news programming
  • Ensure that other viable options exist and are available to deliver on your goals for the period

Finding the right ways to connect with your target audience is crucial at any time, particularly in an election year. And having the proper information to determine how to reach an audience can make or break the success of an ad campaign. It is also more important than ever to be flexible and adaptable during an election period. Many businesses rely on Q4 to ensure their annual sales goals/ROI, so staying nimble and getting creative about strategy and tactics is key.


Running the same or similar advertising plan you ran last year during this period is too risky. These are unprecedented times, with a global pandemic and a presidential election all in the same year, and should be handled as such to maximize your brand’s remaining 2020 advertising budget. You may need to:

  • Increase your budget to achieve the same communication goals you had planned
  • Be more flexible with your placements within and outside of Television
  • Test new tactics
  • Spend more time managing your campaign
  • Deal with uncertainty (yeah, more of that…)


Here are our key five takeaways on how to best maximize your media budget in a election period:

  1. High political spend does not mean that you should not advertise during these periods, even on TV
  2. Over communicate with your buyer/reps about your goals and expectations during this period, have a “Plan B”
  3. Take the opportunity to be flexible, get creative, test new things
  4. This is a dynamic marketplace with a lot of moving parts, stay informed of the changing situation and adapt
  5. If you have finalized your Q4 advertising schedules, now’s the time

If you have any questions on advertising during a political period or paid media in general, please reach out at

Resources for the “New Normal”