During election season, the Super Bowl typically is a respite from the scourge of political ads in early primary states. Not this year. At least four presidential advertisers are plunking down serious cash for 30-second spots before and during the big game in the New Hampshire and South Carolina markets. Whether those ads garner the same water-cooler chatter as the ones from the Hondas and Pepsi-Colas of the ad world remains to be seen.
Jeb Bush backer Right to Rise, Marco Rubio supporter Conservative Solutions, Ted Cruz PAC Stand for Truth and the Rubio campaign itself have all purchased spots set to run pre-game and in-game.
The priciest slots? Those would be the :30 ads Right to Rise and Conservative Solutions have booked on Boston's WBZ TV, a CBS affiliate that hits New Hampshire residents. They're $300,000 each. The two PACs each reserved one of those spots, a far cry from the few hundred bucks they typically pay per spot during most weekdays in smaller markets.
Right to Rise has managed to convince supporters to help fund the Boston ad effort. A crowdfunding campaign intended to pay for the spot had raised $185,746 from 402 donors as of January 29.
Political advertisers have steered clear of the Super Bowl in the past primarily because of the daunting cost and timing of the game, just two days before the first-in-the-nation primary in New Hampshire when contenders must conserve cash for the possibly-long haul ahead.
According to media orders filed with the Federal Communications Commission, Right to Rise will pay $420,000 to run two minutes worth of Super Bowl ads. Stand for Truth will drop $105,000 for one and a half minutes of ad time during the game. Conservative Solutions appears to be the biggest spender of the PAC bunch, booking more than half a million dollars -- $509,000 -- on four and a half minutes of Super Bowl ad time. Meanwhile, Marco Rubio's campaign, protected from stiff prices by price regulations applying to political candidates, will spend $15,000 for one minute.
If New Hampshire is a must-win for a candidate, said Zac Moffatt, co-founder of Republican ad firm Targeted Victory and a longtime digital ad evangelist, it may be worth betting $300,000 on a television spot during Super Bowl 50. However, he suggested the move is probably not the smartest way to spend campaign money.
"Sure, compared to other wasteful things folks are doing with their TV dollars it may be less wasteful," he said of the Super Bowl buys.
Brent McGoldrick, CEO of Republican data and analytics firm Deep Root Analytics, suggested the uncertainty of the 2016 primary race has campaigns making decisions they wouldn't otherwise. "There is an element to this race which is a bit of 'use it or lose it,' or 'now is the time' because of the [Donald] Trump uncertainty," he said, referring to the GOP frontrunner.
"It might make sense to buy, although usually Super Bowl ad buys are more based on gut instinct than cost efficiency," said Carol Davidsen, former director of integration and media analytics at Obama for America who now serves as VP of political technology at TV data firm Rentrak.
But pragmatism and data are factoring into the decision-making process, too, sad Mr. McGoldrick. Buying a Super Bowl spot is almost invariably a splashy branding effort rather than one focused on measurable effectiveness; however, he said, "The data and analytics people have more seats at the table. It's still a cost-per-point and reach calculation, but what I see is another voice at the table making an argument for that."
Deep Root Analytics's data analysis shows that in some key political markets, 100% of voter targets watched the Super Bowl last year, said Mr. McGoldrick, adding, the reach and ratings of the game mean people who don't normally watch TV will be tuning in and exposed to ads they may not see otherwise.
The inventory crunch leading into the New Hampshire and South Carolina primaries is also a factor. "If our vote target is X and we know that Y percent of them are going to be watching the Super Bowl and it's Z cost to reach them, then that's the same as buying 10 to 15 spots on local TV over the course of the week, and by the way, that inventory may not be available to us," he added.
Some 2016 Political Super Bowl Ad Buys
Right to Rise (Jeb Bush)
- WCSC Charleston, S.C.: One in-game 30-second spot, $20,000
- WLTX Columbia, S.C.: One in-game 30-second spot, $40,000
- WSPA Spartanburg, S.C.: One in-game 30-second spot, $60,000
- WBZ TV Boston: One in-game 30-second spot, $300,000
- Total 2-minute Super Bowl TV Spend: $420,000
Conservative Solutions PAC (Marco Rubio)
- WCSC Charleston, S.C.: Two in-game 30-second spot, $40,000
- WSPA Spartanburg, S.C.: One pre-game 30-second spot, $13,000; 2 in-game 30-second spots, $100,000
- WLTX Columbia, S.C.: Two pre-game 30-second spots, $16,000; 1 in-game 30-second spot $40,000
- WBZ TV Boston: One in-game 30-second spot, $300,000
- Total 4.5-minute Super Bowl TV Spend: $509,000
Stand for Truth (Ted Cruz)
- WBTW Myrtle Beach, S.C.: One in-game 30-second spot, $25,000
- WCSC Charleston, S.C.: One in-game 30-second spot, $40,000
- WLTX Columbia, S.C.: One in-game 30-second spot $40,000
- Total 1.5-minute Super Bowl TV Spend: $105,000
Rubio for President
- WCSC Charleston, S.C.: Two in-game 30-second spots, $15,000
- Total 1-minute Super Bowl TV Spend: $15,000