Why Political Ad Spend Is Right Up There With Candy and Cologne

Election Spending in 2012 Will Likely hit new records, but how does it stack up to other industries?

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Tally up the ad spending by candy companies in October ($105 million) and by perfume and cologne makers from Thanksgiving to Christmas ($225 million) and you arrive at the per-month spending for another momentous fall sales event: Election Day.

For broadcasters in swing-state markets expecting a share of that $330 million in presidential TV advertising in September or October, the election season amounts to every happy holiday bundled together.

But what about those marketing anything besides politics?

Even in a presidential election year, political ad revenue can't hold a candle to the revenue that annually flows through Madison Avenue. But force those political ad dollars into local spot TV in a fraction of the nation's Designated Market Areas, factor in the bitter tone of 2012 campaigning, then add obscure laws to the mix, and that spending amounts to an epic lump of coal for sellers of cars, insurance and soap.

Nonpolitical ads might get bumped on an epidemic scale, thanks to growing candidate demands for equal airtime from stations. Those that do air may wind up in the same pods as political attack ads. Bank ads may follow campaign ads excoriating those same banks for benefiting from the Wall Street bailout. Early holiday spots may follow ads that trash talk the economy and scare people out of shopping.

With the help of Kantar Media Chief Research Officer Jon Swallen, here's an "exchange rate" for comparing 2012 political ad spending with corporate ad spending in order to gain a firmer grasp on how big that lump of coal really is .

Keep in mind one other key number, however: 49%. Politics is a zero-sum game. Most consumer brands can succeed with a market share far smaller than 49%. But in a two-candidate race, 49% might as well be zero. Which means you can spend $500 million on TV ads and come away with nothing.

$3 Billion

That's the Kantar Media CMAG projection for total spending on local spot TV advertising in the 2012 elections -- for everything from president down to the proverbial dogcatcher. This sum is roughly equal to:

1 Year of Insurance Ads
Spending on TV ads by insurance industry annually: $3.3 billion

6 Months of Car Spots
Amount spent by carmakers on TV advertising in six months: $3.2 billion

1 Year of Education Ads
Total media spending by marketers for colleges, trade schools and career-training programs in one year: $2.9 billion

1 Year of P&G Marketing
The total annual media ad budget of Procter & Gamble, the biggest advertiser in the United States: $2.9 billion


Kantar Media CMAG projects a midrange estimate of $1.1 billion for total TV ad spending for the 2012 presidential race. As of Labor Day, more than one-third of that amount had been spent, making $330 million our estimate for spending each month from now through Election Day.

Burger & Fries
What the top 10 restaurant advertisers -- McDonald's, Taco Bell, Subway, Burger King, Wendy's , IHOP, Domino's Pizza, Sonic, Red Lobster and KFC -- collectively spend on all media in an average month: $330 million.

Candy & Perfume
Combined spending of candy (in October) and cologne marketers (from Thanksgiving to Christmas): $330 million

Elizabeth Wilner is VP of Kantar Media's CMAG, which tracks and analyzes broadcast TV advertising content, placement and spending.
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