Editor’s note: Ad Age’s Campaign Scorecard is taking a deep dive into political ad spending across federal-level and gubernatorial races throughout the 2019-2020 political cycle. Dive even deeper at AdAge.com/CampaignTrail.
This edition of Campaign Ad Scorecard originally appeared in the Dec. 9 print edition of Ad Age. Bloomberg and Steyer have since booked additional TV and radio ads, giving Bloomberg the lead with nearly $96.8 million and Steyer at No. 2, now with $83.6M (including Steyer’s Need to Impeach).
If we had to come up with an all-purpose tagline for the current crop of presidential candidates, we’d lean toward “A fat lot of good it did her”/“A fat lot of good it did him.” Sooner or later, of course, it will apply to all but one of them.
But for now it certainly works for Senator Kamala Harris, whose campaign blew through nearly $600,000 on TV and radio ads, according to the latest Ad Age Datacenter analysis of political ad spending in partnership with Kantar/CMAG—plus $2.3 million on Facebook ads, according to the social network’s own accounting. Harris suspended her campaign last week.
It also works for Senator Kristen Gillibrand, who, as we previously reported, spent $1.6 million on TV/radio ads, only to drop out in August. (Her final Facebook-spending tally is unclear because the social network deletes candidates from its public database when they end their campaigns.)
And it seems appropriate for media billionaire Mike Bloomberg, the former New York City mayor who joined the race about five minutes ago and yet somehow has already spent $58.4 million on TV/radio ads (including advance bookings), plus $1.3 million on Facebook ads, and—d’oh!—has failed to qualify for next week’s Democratic presidential debate.
And then there’s Tom Steyer—aka “Tom Who?” The San Francisco hedge fund billionaire has burned through an astonishing $77.1 million on TV/radio ads (also including advance bookings), plus $14 million on Facebook ads to date. For those keeping score at home, that adds up to $91.2 million, which means Mayor Mike is going to have to try a lot harder (read: spend a lot faster) if he wants to be first to, uh, achieve a $100-million campaign-ad burn rate this election cycle.
To be fair, Steyer has gotten something for all his money. As New York Magazine put it in a snarky headline last week, “In Underdog Story, Single-Digit Billionaire Buys Way Into December Debate”—i.e., Steyer has squeaked past the 4 percent national-polling threshold mandated by the Democratic National Committee, and has gotten campaign donations from at least 200,000 people.
Side note: Steyer is himself going to have to try harder if he wants to top the biggest Facebook spender, President Donald Trump. Steyer has handed Mark Zuckerberg & Co. just $14 million to date vs. Trump’s $16.1 million.
Meanwhile, the ad outlay of the national-polling front-runners—former Vice President Joe Biden, Senator Elizabeth Warren, Senator Bernie Sanders and South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg (in that order, at the moment)—seems, by comparison, almost adorable. They’ve each spent less than $9 million on TV/radio ads to date (including advance bookings), and less than $6 million each on Facebook ads.
Notably, of the four, the Millennial, Buttigieg, has spent the most ($5.9 million) on Facebook, while Biden has spent the least ($3.1 million). OK, Boomer? Nope—because Biden, at 77, is actually part of the (post-Greatest Generation, pre-Boomer) Silent Generation.
Ad Age Datacenter is Kevin Brown, Bradley Johnson and Catherine Wolf