The first U.S. presidential election was held in 1789. The 57-year-old Revolutionary War hero who won that election wasn’t sure he even wanted the job and was quite vocal that he would have been content spending his remaining days in retirement. The runner-up (and future first Vice President) was John Adams, a man with excellent name recognition. Adams didn’t pose much of a threat, so we don’t get to see what a two-hundred year-old attack ad might have looked like. Ten other candidates also ran for the presidential nomination, including John Jay, Benjamin Lincoln, James Armstrong and John Milton, to name a few. George Washington’s presidential campaign was essentially non-existent because he was the clear front runner and mass communication was non-existent. Educated Americans my have been voracious readers, but weekly newspapers were focused on local stories and practically all publications were limited to a handful of small pages comprised of three to four columns. Mail delivery took weeks to complete, if it ever arrived at all.

Unless we account for office supplies, Washington budgeted a grand total of zero dollars on his campaign.[1]

Fast forward to 2020.

Before dropping out of the race, Michael Bloomberg spent in excess of one billion dollars of his own money on a failed presidential campaign, with $158 million allocated to March alone.[2] The bulk of that media buy was made up of television advertising but also included significant Facebook ads and PPC. While Bloomberg’s digital ad buys may have broken records, the path to massive YOY campaign spending had already been firmly established:

  • The 2008 presidential race set a new spending record and resulted in $2.4 billion in media buys In the 2010 midterm election cycle, candidatesfor office, political parties, and independent groups spent a total of $3.6 billion on federal elections
  • The average winner of a seat in the House of Representatives spent around$1.4 million on their respective campaigns

While we may live in historically polarized times, both Republican and Democratic political strategists are united on one front: TV ad buys are hot, which means they are also expensive.[3]

One of Abe Lincoln’s 1864 campaign slogans was a popular truism that was easily understood by most Americans living in the chaotic post-Civil war era: “Don’t change horses in midstream.” While that saying remains logical, it wasn’t enough to stop Bill Clinton from ponying up big bucks to remain in office when he ran against George H.W. Bush and then Bob Dole. Ditto for the Obama campaign’s monster media buys when he ran against John McCain followed by Mitt Romney.

With roughly four months to go before Americans cast their votes, both the Trump and Biden campaigns are preparing to go on a media buying spree now that Amy Klobuchar, Elizabeth Warren, Mayor Pete, Bernie Sanders and yes, even Michael Bloomberg have gone home.

Political campaigns create consistently unprecedented ad buying demand. Unless you have a sizeable mass media war chest, the odds are that like most little guys, you’ll get squeezed out of the playing field due to rising costs and shrinking inventory. Adding to an already fractured landscape, we now have to factor in COVID-19’s “shelter in place” guidelines, a slow-moving economy and uncertainty over the Fall school season.

With that in mind, I’ve compiled 5 mission critical tips to help you optimize your digital media inventory during this year’s presidential campaign cycle:

  1. OTT is not a one-size fits all proposition. Make sure to implement separate line items when targeting connected devices (e.g. game consoles vs. TV’s). Pre-roll and mid-roll targeting can be improved by using the “playback method” option. 1st and 3rd party data is limited when it comes to OTT, so be realistic when it comes to KPI’s
  2. The importance of CTV can’t be overstated. As cable television continues its inexorable fragmentation, connected devices provide brands with dependable, contextually rich, data driven solutions. Targeting customers based on their personal preferences and geographic location means optimizing budgets is now a practical reality
  3. Maximize spend by retargeting your most coveted audiences. If a potential customer has already interacted with your brand, further engagement is a must
  4. Data rules, especially during a time of economic recovery when budgets are already stretched to their limit. We use a method called Canopy IQ™ to analyze your website visitors to identify which advertising tactic resulted in a visit. This information helps pinpoint High Potential Visitor traffic so you can maximize your ad budget. You can learn more about our process here:
  5. As a rule of thumb, Zig when everyone else Zags. Bringing new insights into the ad buying mix requires a deft combination of advanced technologies and creative exploration. Investing in your company’s future may seem counterintuitive given the current landscape, but the future is increasingly digital. Consider developing an “always on” posture towards digital marketing




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