Just in Time for Holidays: First Ad Barrage of 2012 Race

Longer Political Cycle, More Outside Money Will Lead to a Record-Breaking Spending as High as $3B

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The economy may still be flirting with a double-dip recession and marketers might be mulling a trim to the ad budgets, yet it's all but certain the 2012 election season will break previous spending records. In the presidential race alone, money spent on TV and digital advertising will grow substantially, topping the more than $1 billion spent in the record-setting 2007-2008 campaign cycle.

Ken Goldstein, president of Kantar Media's Campaign Media Analysis Group, predicted $2.5 billion to $3.2 billion would be spent on all political advertising in this campaign cycle, with the presidential race accounting for a substantial portion of that ad spending.

"Ads in the presidential race will be the single largest sector," Mr. Goldstein said.

While money spent on TV advertising will grow, so will the importance of social media, web ads and web videos.

President Barack Obama's campaign has already spent about $1 million on internet ads, according to his campaign filings with the Federal Election Commission. An analysis by the Center for Responsive Politics shows the Obama campaign spent more than $26 million on internet advertising in 2007-2008 to help win the White House.

Of course, Mr. Obama had to duke it out in a contentious primary in 2008. This time around, he won't have to dig too deep into campaign coffers until a Republican candidate is chosen.

So far, his Republican challengers have spent a total of about $5 million on the internet.

As it has in the past, digital advertising is primarily intended to shore up a politician's base, raise money and draw media attention to a campaign, said Jack Poor, VP-marketing at the Television Bureau of Advertising.

Mr. Poor said between 5% and 10% of advertising spending by White House hopefuls will be on digital ads. But he said increased money spent by presidential candidates on the internet will not mean less spent on TV, which he predicted will grow by 20%.

There are several reasons ad spending will increase, he said. The Republican candidate --whomever that is -- isn't likely to do what Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., did when he ran for president in 2008. Mr. McCain accepted public financing that limited the amount of money he could spend on his race.

The growth of "super PACs" that allow independent groups to raise and spend unlimited amounts of money will also boost ad spending. Even though the campaign season is in its early days, these groups have already spent more than $5 million and are expected to spend hundreds of millions of dollars more.

In addition, Florida's decision to move up its primary to Jan. 31, which touched off retaliatory action by the early primary states of Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada and South Carolina, has added weeks to an already lengthy presidential contest.

Mr. Goldstein of the CMAG predicted Republican presidential candidates will spend heavily on advertising in Florida, the state with the potential to deliver the most delegates early in the campaign.

"Florida is going to be an Armageddon," Mr. Goldstein said.

Texas Rep. Ron Paul was the first out of the gate to air a TV commercial, in Iowa, and the other Republican candidates are likely to begin their barrage of TV ads in the early primary states toward the end of November.

Another factor in advertising spending is that many states have increased the amount of time voters are allowed to file absentee ballots or vote early. Early voting in the key swing state of Ohio, for instance, begins 35 days before Election Day.

"This is one thing we're watching very closely, the window has really opened up," Mr. Poor said. "The implication for advertising is that campaigns will have to be active many more weeks, which is going to make it more expensive."

There will also be more battleground states this year, driving up campaign-advertising costs.

"We're in a growth industry, despite the economy overall," Mr. Poor said.

Most of that increase in TV spending will benefit local stations, although there may be some national advertising late in the campaign. Both the Obama and McCain campaigns bought national prime-time advertising in 2008. Local cable stations will receive about 15% of TV advertising dollars.

Money spent on print advertising, which the Center for Responsive Politics calculated at about $22 million in the 2007-2008 campaign, will lag considerably behind TV and internet spending.

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