Opinion: Unlocking the power of political TV advertising in a time of change
Across the United States, Americans are spending more time at home than at any time in recent memory. As a result, TV viewership is exploding.
According to a survey conducted by FreeWheel, a Comcast company, more than 80 percent of consumers say they are watching more TV and online video than they did prior to the start of COVID-19 social distancing1. An analysis of Comcast aggregated viewing data by Effectv suggests that this has resulted in a 64 percent increase in consumption of news programming and a 40 percent increase in time spent watching TV during daytime hours2.
In this crucial political season, many have questioned what our “new normal” will look like in the months ahead. With the increases in TV and online viewership, there is more opportunity than ever for candidates to have their messages heard among a large group of voters. But will political advertisers stay in the game? Or, will concerns about the cost and propriety of advertising at this moment keep them sidelined?
I believe that political advertising in 2020 is still a must-have, and I’m expecting that ad volume in the months ahead will balance out what might have been a quieter-than-usual month or two during the start of the COVID-19 outbreak.
Follow the eyeballs
The research from FreeWheel suggests that consumers are open to advertising during this time: More than 90 percent of consumers think brands should continue advertising1. But in this highly unusual election year, how should political advertisers approach their buying strategies? They should do what they always do in today’s modern advertising world: follow the eyeballs.
A key TV tactic this year will continue to be geo-targeting, which is growing increasingly sophisticated in TV thanks to data-informed TV buying. Like always, it has allowed political advertisers to focus on specific states where primary election dates have shifted and also direct more dollars to the areas that matter.
What’s changed in this presidential election cycle, however, is the ability to layer on additional audience segment-targeting criteria (e.g., “likely to vote in the upcoming election” or “likely to support a particular party”). In this way, political advertisers can go beyond geo-targeting to reach their candidate’s key audiences—who, by the way, may very well be watching more TV than in years past.
Changing habits in key states
By focusing on key regions, advertisers can reach voters like never before. Take Pennsylvania, for example. It is a key swing state for voters, one of several that could determine the outcome of the presidency.
Across Pennsylvania, we’re seeing increases in viewership among X1 TV viewers. Consumers in this state are spending 84 percent more time watching cable news. But that’s not all. They’re spending more time watching TV across the board, including a 25 percent increase in daytime viewing and 40 percent growth in video-on-demand viewing (a sometimes forgotten, but highly effective advertising medium.)3 Given this trend, taking an audience-based, data-driven approach to reaching audiences will open up new dayparts and programming options that were not widely utilized in the past.
These viewership trends are playing out in key states across the country. The audience is there, and by using data-informed advertising campaigns, political advertisers can reach them effectively.
The spend is yet to come
Political prognosticators today are still calling for the largest political ad spend ever in this cycle, and much of that is due to record-setting fundraising. History has told us that nearly two-thirds of the entire cycle’s political ad spending happens between Labor Day and Election Day, so there is still plenty of time for fundraising—and ad spend—to get on track.
In this unprecedented political season, there’s no doubt the game has changed. But the players are still active and the need to reach voters is as crucial—if not more crucial—than ever before.
(1) FreeWheel Real-Time Insights: TV Advertising: The Right Moves, Right Now, April 2020
(2) Comcast Aggregated De-Identified Viewership Data—National Footprint, 3/30/20-4/26/20 vs. same period one year ago
(3) Comcast Aggregated De-Identified Viewership Data—PA: 3/30/20-4/26/20 vs. same period one year ago